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Tuesday, Jan. 27, 2009

Data on fish market toxin withheld


Staff writer

The Tokyo Metropolitan Government on Monday revealed it learned in June that the concentration of a toxic substance at the proposed site of a new fish market in Toyosu, Koto Ward, was 115 times higher than in a previous inspection but withheld the information for five months from a panel of soil pollution experts.

The toxic substance, benzopyrene, is a carcinogen found in coal tar and automobile exhaust. It is one of 22 chemicals designated as posing a high health risk by the Air Pollution Control Law, although there are no regulations stating its acceptable level, an Environment Ministry official said.

The Tokyo government wants to move the world-famous fish market from the Tsukiji neighborhood to the new site by 2014.

The proposed site has drawn opposition from some members of the Tokyo assembly and the fisheries industry, who have long expressed concerns about contamination and the inconvenient location.

The panel of four experts was set up in May 2007 by the Tokyo government to study the relocation of the fish market, which is now located in Chuo Ward.

In November 2007, the government informed the panel it had found 5.1 mg of benzopyrene per kg of soil at one of the test sites at the new location.

In another inspection of 4,122 sites carried out starting last March, 441 were found to contain higher than acceptable levels of chemicals. The Environment Ministry official said that 150 contained benzopyrene, and that one site had 590 mg per kg of soil.

Although the Tokyo government was apprised of the inspection results in June, it did not report the findings to the panel at a meeting in July, the official said. Nor was the public informed.

Explaining the reason for the nondisclosure, an official in the New Market Development Section said: "At that point we did not have the whole picture (of how polluted the entire new site was). Also, the panel members told us the level is highly unlikely to endanger human health."

The market relocation section e-mailed the four former members of the panel, which was disbanded in July, in the middle of November, notifying them of the findings, she said.

All four replied that the level is unlikely to pose a danger to human health given that benzopyrene is not highly water-soluble, she said.



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