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(Fwd) Chlorine News 11/20

   ... fyi ...
  Pat Costner
                        Copyright 1997 Asahi News Service
                           Asahi News Service
                            November  20, 1997, Thursday
  LENGTH: 2593 words
     The town of Sugito is a bedroom community with a population
  of 40,000 in eastern Saitama Prefecture. For years, Sugito was
  seen as a successful showcase  of a municipal drive to reduce
  household garbage.
     Ever since the municipality began charging a garbage
  collection fee in 1977,  the residents have been burning most of
  their own trash in home incinerator drums recommended by the
  town. As a result, the annual per-capita garbage output handled
  by the town has dropped to 110 kilograms, which is about half of
  the                                         prefectural average.
     But now, the success story has turned into a nightmare. All
  that home garbage-burning has been yielding toxicants of the
  dreaded dioxin family.
     Dubbed ''the most lethal man-made poison,'' dioxin is any of
  a family of polychlorinated dibenzo-para-dioxins (PCDDs). The
  most toxic among them is the compound 2,3,7,8-tetrachlorodibenzo
  dioxin, or TCDD for short.
     ''Toxicity experiments on animals show that TCDD is 1,000
  times more lethal than potassium cyanide,'' noted Masatoshi
  Morita, a senior researcher at the National Institute for
  Environmental Studies.
     ''According to some researchers, 12 kilograms of TCDD is all
  that's needed to wipe out the entire Japanese population,''
  Morita pointed out.
     ''As for the effects of dioxin on human health, there are
  still a lot of unknowns because of insufficient research data
  around the world,'' Morita said.  ''But generally speaking,
  dioxin is known to cause cancer, birth defects and breakdown of
  the immune system.''
                                       The first case of dioxin
  pollution  in Japan was reported in November 1983,  when a team
  of Aichi University researchers detected a high concentration of
  this substance in fly ash from a municipal garbage incinerator.
     Dioxins are generated in the process of manufacturing organic
  chloride fertilizers and pesticides, but about 80 percent of
  dioxin  pollution  is said to be caused by waste disposal
  facilities that burn vinyl chlorides and other plastics
  containing chlorides.
     Dioxin in stack effluent is released into the atmosphere to
  contaminate the rivers and soil. And because dioxin compounds do
  not break down easily, they eventually find their way into the
  food chain in fish, crops and other produce.
     ''In Japan, about 15 kilograms of dioxins are released into
  the atmosphere from garbage incinerators every year,'' noted
  Hideaki Miyata, a Setsunan University professor. ''That's about
  one-tenth the total amount sprayed by the U.S. military in the
  form of the defoliant Agent Orange during the 1960s and early
  '70s in Vietnam.''
     Atsuya Nagayama, an assistant professor at Kyushu University,
  said, ''What worries me most about this situation is what it
  could do or has already done to  fetuses and newborn babies.''
                            Dioxin is lipophilic, which means that
  when it is assimilated into the human  body, the heaviest
  deposits are to be found in body fat, or in the case of
  lactating women, in their milk.
     To study the effects of dioxin in mother's milk on infants,
  Nagayama checked  the dioxin level in 15 women who had given
  birth two to three weeks before, and  then tested the levels of
  thyroid hormone and suppressor T cells in their babies after
  they had been breast-fed for a year.
     Nagayama found that babies whose mothers had high dioxin
  contents in their milk tended to have lower-than-average levels
  of thyroid hormone and suppressor  T cell. The latter regulate
  the immune response to infantile eczema, a type of atopic
     ''My study findings alone do not point to any conclusive
  evidence of health damage being done to babies by dioxin in
  mother's milk,'' Nakayama admitted.
     ''But given the undisputed toxicity of dioxin, we shouldn't
  be taking any chances. There is no question that steps must be
  taken to eliminate causes of dioxin  pollution. ''
                                       An  environmentalist  group
  in the aforementioned town of Sugito points out some disturbing
     The group recently examined the mortality rate of newborn
  babies of up to one week old in every municipality within the
  prefecture. The study was based on Health and Welfare Ministry
  demographic survey figures from 1989 through 1994.
     The group found that Sugito's newborn mortality rate for
  those years averaged 3.49 for every 1,000 residents the second
  highest in the prefecture and nearly double the prefectural
     ''All other high-mortality-rate municipalities, including the
  top-ranked Miyoshi at 3.55 per 1,000, have a number of
  industrial waste incinerators where  high levels of dioxin have
  been detected,'' noted Michiro Tanahashi, a member of the
  environmentalist  group.
     ''But that doesn't apply to Sugito, which is what really
  bothers me,'' he continued. ''For lack of any better
  explanation, you have to conclude that 20 years of home garbage-
  burning has caused a widespread dioxin  pollution  that's
  obviously not safe for babies.''
                                       Soichi Ota, a lecturer at
  Setsunan University's pharmacology department, said there was no
  ground for establishing any direct correlation between the home
  garbage-burning and Sugito's high infant mortality rate.
     ''But you can't absolutely and completely refute all
  correlation, either,'' he conceded.
     ''The mortality rate per se doesn't really prove anything,''
  noted Kenichi Arai, a municipal environment official. ''However,
  to allay the residents' anxiety, we are going to check the
  dioxin level in the atmosphere, soil and well water.''
     Last March, the town completed a modern waste disposal plant
  with an incinerator designed to operate 16 hours a day to burn
  84 tons of trash. However, the incinerator is at work only eight
  hours a day, as only 24 tons of household garbage are being
  collected per day for a fee.
     ''Obviously, a lot of people are still burning their own
  garbage at home to avoid paying the collection fee,'' said
  Yoshihiro Kimura, a leader of a local group calling for a free
  municipal garbage collection service.
                                       ''We aren't complaining
  about having to pay for garbage pickup,'' he explained. ''All we
  are saying is that the town should rethink its current garbage
  policy, considering the environmental problems that have
  resulted from it.''
     In the city of Tokorozawa on the prefecture's southern
  border, Toshimichi Yabe is studying the effects of dioxin on
  children's health.
     An environmental activist, Yabe started suspecting some years
  back that dioxin from the city's many industrial waste
  incinerators could be responsible for what he thought was a high
  incidence of asthma and atopic eczema among local youngsters.
     A study of cases of these conditions, reported by primary and
  junior high schools in Tokorozawa between 1988 and 1994, showed
  that the incidence in the city was considerably higher than
  anywhere else in the prefecture.
     With asthma, Yabe found, Tokorozawa primary school children
  were four to five times more prone to this ailment, and junior
  high school pupils three to four times more prone, than the
  highest prefectural average in any given year.
                                       For atopic eczema, the
  corresponding figures were three to eight times for primary
  school children and three to four times for junior high school
     ''What struck me most was the discovery that almost all
  schools that reported especially high incidences of these
  ailments are located downwind of a 50-square-kilometer zone
  where as many as 50 waste incinerators are in operation,'' Yabe
     ''Given the absence of any notable variation in diet,
  lifestyle or immediate  living environment from community to
  community, you naturally suspect air  pollution  as a rather
  obvious cause of this 'asthma/atopic eczema cluster.'''
     An estimated 60 to 180 grams of dioxins are believed to be
  generated per year from the 50-square-kilometer zone, enough to
  kill 1.2 million to 3.6 million people if they are directly
  exposed, according to an expert.
     The Health and Welfare Ministry sets the ''humanly safe''
  dioxin level at ''10 picograms per one kilogram of body
  weight.'' One picogram equals one-trillionth of a gram.
     A new air  pollution  control law enters into effect in Japan
  next month, in  tandem with a revised law on waste disposal.
  Together, these laws will
    regulate 12,000 garbage incinerators around the nation.
     However, for older incinerators that fall way short of the
  new dioxin emission standards, their operators are being given
  a five-year grace period to  clean up their act.
     During that moratorium, the maximum permissible emission
  level is 80 nanograms of dioxin per cubic meter of stack
  effluent 800 times higher than in Germany, where any incinerator
  emitting more than 0.1 nanogram of dioxin per cubic meter of
  stack effluent is shut down at once.
     ''Compared to Europe and America, Japan is generally far too
  lax in its dioxin control standards,'' lamented Toshikazu
  Fujiwara, a leader of a citizens  network to combat dioxin
  LOAD-DATE: November
  [Entered Greenbase November 20, 1997 ]
  Pat Costner
  P.O. Box 548, or 512 CR 2663
  Eureka Springs, Arkansas 72632 USA
  ph:  501-253-8440
  fx:  501-253-5540
  em:  pat.costner@dialb.greenpeace.org