Garbage facility gas linked to ailments

Hydrogen sulfide emanating from a municipal garbage facility caused health problems among residents of Tokyo’s Suginami Ward in 1996, a committee of experts said in a report handed to the metropolitan government Friday.

It was the first time the metropolitan government acknowledged a correlation between the facility, where unburnable waste is compressed for transport, and an assortment of ailments among nearby residents.

Symptoms of the so-called Suginami Disease — including headaches, respiratory problems, dizziness and numbness in the limbs — first appeared with frequency in 1996, when the facility began operating.

The committee found that waste from the facility had been kept in an underground tank, where it was allowed to remain for as long as two weeks at a time. The facility stopped using the tank in 1997.

Organic substances in the tank decomposed, releasing hydrogen sulfide, which is found in volcanic gas and hot springs, into the sewers of neighboring residential areas, the report says.

The committee also said it could not deny the possibility that some of the ailments were due to the use of pesticides in a park beside the facility.

Metro officials said they will study the individual claims of 46 residents who reported ailments between March and August 1996, while the tank was in use, and the possibility of compensation.

“Once a clear cause-and-effect relationship (between the symptoms and the chemicals) is established, compensation in some form will have to follow,” said Tokyo Gov. Shintaro Ishihara.

Prior to the report, metropolitan government officials pointed to studies that showed emissions of eight chemicals in the plant were within levels specified by the Environment Agency.

“There were blind spots (in the city’s studies),” admitted Susumu Araku of the metro government’s Bureau of Sanitation. “There was lack of awareness and effort to listen to the residents’ claims.” While applauding the report for acknowledging the link between the ailments and the facility, residents want further studies of other chemicals that they say affect them.

A total of 121 residents have reported ailments to date.