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Tuesday, July 24, 2001

Planned new incinerator has locals fuming

Fearful Shiga residents decry lack of voice over dioxin-spewing waste facility

Staff writer

OTSU, Shiga Pref. -- Another environmental controversy is smoldering along the shores of Lake Biwa over a proposed incinerator that will handle 300 tons of industrial and household waste daily.

Incinerators, like this one in Kyoto's Ichihara district, produce some of the highest levels dioxin in the world.

On July 7, citizens of Shiga, the site of the planned facility, met to weigh their options and learn how the prefecture plans to proceed. According to sources, the facility will be managed by a third-sector firm tentatively called Shiga Kankyo Enterprise.

Several in attendance expressed strong reservations about the incinerator, citing Japan's dismal record in halting the emission of dioxin and other toxins at numerous waste disposal sites.

Others were upset about the heavy-handed way in which the prefecture foisted the project on local residents.

"They suddenly purchased the land on March 14 and the same day announced they were going to build the incinerator. That simply wasn't fair," said Takeo Nishizawa, a local resident and one of the organizers of the meeting. "The people of the town of Shiga should have been notified beforehand of their intentions. We hear they plan to burn industrial as well as household waste, and this has us very concerned about the environmental impact."

There was no firm decision at the meeting as to what action to take. They opted instead to listen to what government representatives will say at an upcoming meeting.

According to prefectural officials, the incinerator will take seven years to build and will have its first environmental assessment next spring. The incinerator type has yet to be decided, but the officials indicated it will be an experimental, gas-fired facility that will burn waste from 12 municipalities around the clock.

The facility will be managed by the third-sector enterprise to be formed by the prefecture and private sector. The monitoring of emissions will also be done by a private firm, but officials could not say how often checks would be carried out. Residue from the furnace will be melted and shipped off to be used in the making of concrete.

Of roughly 7,200 incinerators operating in Japan, 180 are located in Shiga Prefecture, the prefecture said.

Host to dozens of large manufacturing plants, including those of Asahi Chemical Industry Co. and Daihatsu Diesel Mfg. Co., the prefecture produces 31/2 million tons of industrial waste and 400,000 tons of household waste yearly.

Whatever course of action the residents choose, they are right to be concerned.

Environment Ministry studies show Japan has the highest levels of dioxin in the atmosphere and soil of any country. Absorbed through the skin, food and air, the carcinogen is given off when waste is burned. Most at risk from its effects are young people.

Studies in Osaka and Saitama prefectures conducted in 1999 showed that people living near incinerators were three times as likely to come down with serious illnesses as people living in other areas.

Awareness of dioxin and other toxic chemicals produced by incinerators reached panic proportions two years ago when it was learned that hundreds of incinerators nationwide were spewing out levels of toxins well above government limits.

In one case in Nose, Osaka Prefecture, in 1999, a plant was so toxic that it had to be razed and cleaned up. Two workers, unaware until then of the danger they were putting themselves in, have filed suit against Osaka Prefecture and the plant's operator for work-related illnesses.

In another high-profile case, officials at the U.S. Naval Air Station at Atsugi, Kanagawa Prefecture, sued Envirotech Co., the operator of several nearby incinerators, last year, forcing the closure of the plants until steps can be taken to reduce dioxin emissions. Levels in the air over the base, which is also used by the Maritime Self-Defense Force, were measured at 35 times mandated limits.

Dioxin is formed when chlorine-based refuse is burned at temperatures of 200 to 300 degrees. To reduce such emissions, furnaces must operate at temperatures exceeding 800 degrees. Despite recent advances in technology, no incinerator is pollution free.

"We cannot give any guarantee that there will be no dioxin emissions," said Shigekazu Ichiki, director of the Environmental and Waste Disposal Division of the Shiga Prefectural Government.

"What we will do is sign an agreement with the town council of Shiga setting the levels of dioxin and other pollutants that will come from the incinerator. The figures will be made available to the public," he said.

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