Pollution in Northern Tokorozawa, in the Area known as Kunugiyama
by Eiko Kotani
trans. L. Sogawa
I live in the area known as Kunugiyama, a wooded flatland where incinerators are heavily concentrated and generate a grave dioxin problem in Tokorozawa. Kunugiyama is located in the north of Tokorozawa where the city borders between Tokorozawa, Sayama, Kwagoe, and Miyoshi (A township) fit together like the pieces of an intricate jigsaw puzzle. Sixteen incinerators are concentrated within a 500 meter radius, and although at present two of them have shut down operations, they are two of the smaller incinerators in the area, and I fear that the overall rate of incineration will hardly be affected by this shut-down. It should be noted that in this area not one of the incinerators is actually built within Tokorozawa's city limits, however as Tokorozawa lies mainly downwind from Kunugiyama, it is Tokorozawa residents who suffer the most.
An environment blessed with lush foliage and clean air
My family moved to Kunugiyama 20 years ago.
Even though the location was remote and inconvenient, I was taken
with the rich natural environment and the fresh air of the woodland.
I thought it would be a good place to raise my children. At that
time there were no incinerators nearby, and our lives were saturated
with the beauty of the woods. One of our neighbors moved hrer
to relieve her son's asthma, exclaiming that there was nothing
like fresh air, and that she could tell the difference in the
air quality as soon as she reached the woods. Her son's asthma
cleared up completely.
In those days, people used to forage for mushrooms and there was an abundance of wildlife including a variety of birds and small mammals. Rabbits could be seen hopping about, and the now-endangered Great Hawk made its nest in the trees. On holidays people enjoyed the woods, families hiked, students played at orienteering. The woodland was truly a place of relaxation and recreation for the citizens. Also used as a walking course for children in daycare, every morning at ten o'clock the woods resounded with children's voices.
Many people were surprized to find a large tract of wooded land just over an hour's commute from the Tokyo metropolis. Not only for residents of the area, but also for Tokyo dwellers, Kunugiyama was a precious remnant of countyside.
The environment suffers a violent change: open burning
However, nearly ten years
ago, in 1991, someone started open burning in the woods only 100
meters from our house. They were burning the refuse from torn-down
buildings in a large pit. According to the Gyousha,(trans. note.
A gyosha refers to someone who incinerates refuse for a profit,
or as part of a business, i.e. a construction company that incinerates
refuse from buildings it tears down.) they were also burning large
electrical appliances in the pit. The smoke from such refuse is
completely different from the smoke from a campfire. There are
horrible smells that you instinctively know are adverse to health.
the linings of your nose and throat burn, and you feel ill. Since
the burning started everyday early in the morning, the pristine
morning air was lost to us, and the conditions became so bad that
we could no longer even open the windows. On windless day the
smoke lingers, and it is as if we once lived in heaven and were
now banished to hell. Ashes wolud drift through the air, and often
the area beyond our garden was littered with blackened burnt tatters.
Sometimes the flames from the pit would escape into the woods,
and many times we feared that our lives or property wolud be consumed
by fire. We called the fire department to put out brush fires
countless times. One day a truck with its load hidden by canvas
passed by leaving the smell of hospital antiseptic in its wake,
and the next morning, my son, who had left his window open, reported
that he smelled something like burnt stew. (Kotani is referring
to the probability that hospital refuse, including discarded organs,
was illegally incinerated that morning. -L.S.)
From that time on, in order to protect my family, I equipped the house with air cleaners. The filters become black with soot, and the black gummy substance that adheres to the case of the machine does not come off with water. I suspect it is an oily smoke residue, as only a strong detergent will remove it. (Here Kotani is indirectly accusing the Gyousya of the illegal incineration of waste oile.-L.S.) A friend of mine in Shinagawa (center of Tokyo) uses the same type of air -cleaner. This friend smokes cigarettes and the filter turns brownish with use, but never pitch-black like mine does. There is little traffic in the woods, and I can only think that the incinerators are the source of the sooty pollution. I get chills when I think of what our lungs would look like if I hadn't equipped the house with air filters. I fear for my children's health, and to protect them even a little from the incinerator smoke, day after day goes by without opening the windows to let air into the house.
Pollution becomes worse after incinerators are erected
Even though the residents
of the area let the prefectural government know that they were
strictly opposed to the erection of incinerators on a lot previously
used for illegal open burning, the prefetural government issued
an incinerator premit to the Gyousya involved. In 1994 two incinerators
were erected 100 meters from my house, and the prefectural officials
explained that these incinerators would produce no smell or smoke.
With the erection of the incinerators both the smell and the smoke
became much worse. The area around my house was constantly enveloped
in smoke, and I realized that this was no longer a safe place
for humans to live. I repeatedly Faxed my protests to the prefecture,
telling them that the area had been "reduced to a zone without
law." As this was to no avail, and the horrible smells and
the smoke were beyond enduring, I protested directly to the Gyosya
operating near my house. They would set fire to the mound of refuse
beside the incinerators, and a few times I had them put the fire
out. I once took a photograph of their grounds when I caught them
open burning in this way and the next day an official from the
Prefectural Environmental Management Bureau contacted me to say
that the Gyousya was furious, and that I was not to trespess on
their grounds, nor was I to take photos without permission. My
reaction was less anger than disgust. I could understand such
a reaction if the smoke, horrible smells, and dangerous substances
never left the incinerator grounds, but that is not the case,
and we have a duty to protect ourselves.
I don't think it is just coincidence that my children's excema worsened after the erection of the two incinerators near my house. People living in the neighborhood began to suffer respiratory difficulties, some needing constant medical attention.
Under prefecture guidance, the woodland becomes populated with small incinerators
Despite the citizen's unrelenting
protests and complaints to government officials, one incinerator
after another was erected in the woods. (Now there are many Gyousha
involved, and the incinerators are clustered on the borders of
the three cities and one township.-L.S.) In order to let as many
people know what horrible things were happening in the woods,
in 1994 we began leading groups of citizens on inspection tours
of Kunugiyama. Many of the participants were angered by the deplorable
conditions, and were shocked to realize that even though factory
emissions had come under government regulation, refuse incineration
was completely unregulated. Participants standing beneath a large
smokestack and coughing painfully into hankerchieves pressed to
their mouths is a sight which will remain etched in my memory.
One of the tour participants was a mother who led her small doughter by the hand. When we passed near one of the incinerators, the Gyousya loosed his Dovermans. The dogs made straight for the little girl. Fortunately, she was not injured but many of the Gyousya keep vicious dogs such as Dovermans, and we often feel the threat of bodily harm. I had to call the police once when my son, on returning from school, found a Doberman at our front door.
Evidence of dioxin pollution
I became concerned that
dioxins were being emitted from the incinerator smokestacks, so
I invited Setsunan University professor Hideaki Miyata to take
a look a Kunugiyama. Professor Miyata, surprised by the heavy
concentration of industral waste incinerators and the polluted
air in the woods, agreed to test for dioxins. He took samples
of soil and pine needles. Professor Miyata noted a burning sensation
in his respiratory passanges on entering the woods, and pointed
out that such symptoms could indicate the presence of poisonous
and corrosive gases such as hydrogen chloride, hydrogen sulfide
and hydrogen flouride.
The results of Professor Miyata's soil tests were made public in December, 1995 and showed the presence of dioxin in this area of incinerator concentration. Tokorozawa's tribulations with dioxin had begun.
What is frightening about dioxin is that it has no color or scent, cannot be felt, and builds up in the body. I worry about the future of our children and the generations to come. Data show that as with the ingestion of food, dioxin is also absorbed into the body through inhalation of air. People living near dioxin-emitting incinerators incur a greater risk of exposure through the air. It is not rare for dioxin data of air samples taken downwind of Kunugiyama to exceed 2 pg/m3TEQ. That is over 10 times the amount found in most Western nations.
I am also concerned about dioxin exposure through soil contact and ingestion. I am terrified when I see children commuting to school in the middle of seasonal dust storms, when the sky becomes yellow with dust. Dioxin-laden ash and smoke that precipitate from the sky settle mainly on the surface of the ground, and do not penetrate deeply. These Dioxin-laden particles are then lifted and carried by strong winds. I often see piles of incinerator ash left uncovered, and wonder how much of this ash is then distributed by the wind to other places where it can do great harm.
Children love to play in the mud, and this type of play is important for their development. Mothers with children face inpossible choices when living in a poisoned environment. We can't with any confidence say, "Go out and enjoy Nature." I cannot help but worry every time I see a child playing jump rope in a cloud of dust. And my worries increase when I think of the amount of dioxin a mother transmits to her child through breast feeding. One wonders about the fate of humanity when a moter has to be worried about whether it is safe to breast-feed her child.
When the adverse effects of being raised in an unsafe environment show up in the future, who is going to take responsivility then? Do not destroy our children's future.
Investigations by citizens linked a high infant death-rate to the presence of refuse incinerators. Too many children suffer from exema and asthma. It is obvious to anyone who looks that refuse incinerators are heavily concentrated in the Tokorozawa area. It should be obvious to anyone knowing this that Tokorozawa is at risk of pollution by various incinerator emissions. The danger lights are flashing. We, as adults,must stop this pollution. We must stop it at its source. We must stop the incineration.
Do not put off making the necessary decisions by denying the existance of the problem. Do not invite the occurance of another environmental disaster.
Calling for a ban on incinerators in agricultural areas
Of all citizens in the area,
the farmers suffer most from the effects of the incinerators.
They are the victims of profit-seeking Gyosha who burn industrial
waste adjacent to farms. The farmers suffer casualties not just
to their crops, but also to their healths. Farming in the countryside
should be one of the most healthful professions. But we often
hear of farmers who become ill while working outdoors and breathing
air which has become laden with incineration by-products. People
who remain indoors with their air cleaners on can protect themselves
to some extent. Not so for farmers who must work outdoors for
five to six hours per day. They also have direct contact with
the soil. It is agricultural workers who are at the highest risk
when the air and soil are polluted by dangerous substaces. Incineration
must not continue in agricultural areas.
Recently a building inspector came to view our house. He found terrible corrosion in the folds of the bellows of our air conditioner hose situated on the roof. He said he had never seen such corrosion. He asked me if I had any clue as to the source, and the only thing I could conseive of was the incinerators.
Also, the results of a 1996 enviromental assessment showed a high level of asbestos in Kunugiyama. This also requires further investigation as to the cause.
I am angry at the horrid absurdity of having lost this beautiful environment to industrial waste incineration which has been responsible for the occurance in this area of not just deadly dioxins but also carcinogens such as asbestos. My anger will not relent until the environment has been restored.
All of Japan is focused on Tokorozawa. If the conditions do not improve soon, Tokorozawa will become the shame of Saitama Prefecture. There is no excuse for treating the citizen's lives and the envioronment with such contempt. The Prefecture speaks with sugar-coated words, but its real stance is evident when you look at what is happening in Tokorozawa.
We can no longer safely endure the increasing pollution of our environment, and we will not stand for it. We demand an immediate shut-down of the incinerators.