The following news summaries are by Jeff Durbin. They are based mainly on information taken from The Asahi Evening News (AEN), The Daily Yomiuri (DY), and The Japan Times (JT).
The Environment Agency has found that the overall quality of the nation's waters was 72.1 percent of the agency's target. The results were gathered from oxygen demand figures. Tokyo Bay showed no change; Ise Bay is slightly cleaner. The Kanto region also had the nation's dirtiest river and lake, thanks to the Sekiyama River in Ibaraki Prefecture, with a BOD (biochemical oxygen demand) of 46 mg per liter, and Lake Teganuma in Chiba, with a COD (chemical oxygen demand) of 25 mg per liter. Hokkaido took the clean honors with Lake Shikotsu and the Hiroo River (BOD of 0.5 mg per liter). Last year, 68.9 percent of the target was achieved. The Agency said fertilizers and household waste water need to be restricted. (JT 1 Dec)
Despite spending over five billion yen already, the Construction Ministry has decided to halt construction of four dams on the advice of local review councils. With less demand for water and the national economy in a recession, the Ministry saw no use for the Mizuhara and Hibashi River dams in Fukushima Prefecture, and the Ikurugawa River Dam in Ishikawa. Such a late call to suspend a dam project is unprecedented, and environmentalists applauded the decision. In all, 13 dams came under review. The panels have been criticized for rubberstamping Ministry projects (see May 28, 1996). (DY/JT 19 Dec)
The Takamatsu District Court has ordered a waste disposal company to compensate Teshima Island residents, as well as clean up 510,000 tons of waste that it dumped there, including PCBs, lead, benzene, dioxin, mercury, arsenic, cadmium, waste oil and acid, and shredder dust. However, the company, Teshima Sogo Kanko Kaihatsu, is no longer in business and is unlikely to carry out the court's ruling. It has consistently violated court instructions, and Judge Yamawaki Masamichi called the case "a particularly wicked example of a default of an obligation." Since 1977, Teshima residents have asked Kagawa Prefecture to clean up the island and restore its name as a home of yellowtail fish and other seafood. Despite over a hundred inspections of the site by prefectural officials, dumping was not halted. Kagawa Prefecture so far has refused to pay for cleanup with public money, and companies that originally produced the waste will not pay because the prefecture never ruled the dump illegal. A scientific survey of the dump found dioxin in the groundwater, and oysters containing arsenic and dioxin. The Takamatsu court is the first in Japan to side with a citizens' request for waste removal. The history of this case is detailed by editor Maggie Suzuki on the Japan Environment Monitor home page. (DY/JT 27 Dec)
After 14 years in the courts, 401 Kawasaki residents have won 3.1 billion yen and apologies from 14 companies as compensation for suffering pollution-related diseases. One hundred thirty-seven of the plaintiffs have died since the suit was first filed. The settlement was engineered by the Tokyo High Court and Yokohama District Court. The companies include Tokyo Electric Power Co., NKK Corp., and East Japan Railway Co. The court would not link the plaintiffs' health problems to sulfur dioxide from automobiles, and also refused the plaintiffs' request that the government strengthen pollution regulations. The suit will continue against the Metropolitan Expressway Public Corp. and national government (JT 21/22/26 Dec). In Kurashiki, Okayama Prefecture, another out-of-court settlement, this one after 13 years, awarded 1.39 billion yen to 183 victims of air pollution in the Mizushima industrial area. According to settlement terms, the plaintiffs will drop their demand that pollution be reduced (JT 20/27 Dec). The Osaka High Court has opened an appeal case by the government and the Hanshin Public Expressway Corp. after a lower court ruling last March blamed them for vehicle pollution and health problems in Nishiyodogawa Ward, Osaka (see March 17, 1996). At that time the plaintiffs settled with ten other companies (DY 6 Dec).