Intended for healthcare professionals


Japan tackles dioxin levels

BMJ 1999; 318 doi: (Published 27 March 1999) Cite this as: BMJ 1999;318:830
  1. Claire Wallerstein
  1. Manila

    Authorities in Japan are taking urgent steps to counter the potentially harmful effects of high concentrations of dioxin in the environment.

    Recycling is almost unheard of in this heavily industrialised nation, where at least 75%of all waste is burnt, and Japan has 10 times more incinerators than the United States. Around 90%of the country's emissions of dioxin, a known carcinogen, are reported to come from such waste incinerators and the burning of chlorine based chemicals.

    Last month the government submitted a bill to the Diet (parliament), requiring firms to report all emissions of some 300 pollutants, including dioxin and hormone disrupters. The bill is expected to become law before June.

    The cabinet has also just held its first ministerial conference on dioxin policy in efforts to review maximum tolerable daily intakes. The conference, headed by the prime minister, Keizo Obuchi, is expected to formulate a unified policy on safe limits by the end of this month. The current maximum, according to the Ministry of Health and Welfare, is 10 pg/kg of body weight.

    The World Health Organisation is lowering its own limits to 1-4 pg/kg. It is hoped that the review will also spark a national debate on the issue, promote recycling programmes, and come up with improved methods for testing dioxin. Further conferences will discuss dioxin concentrations in soil and food.

    High concentrations of dioxin have also been found in soil on Maishima island, near Osaka, where authorities are hoping to construct a massive sports stadium. The island had been used for the dumping of incinerated waste and raw sewage, and at soil depths of 17-22 metres, dioxin concentrations reached up to 940 pg/kg. Concerns have been raised over the health of construction workers, and the environmental organisation Greenpeace Australia is now helping to devise a clean up programme.

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    Incinerators in Japan account for 90% of dioxin emissions