U.S. sues to shut down incinerators

The United States on Monday filed a civil suit against a waste disposal company near the U.S. Naval Air Facility in Atsugi, Kanagawa Prefecture, seeking immediate suspension of the firm’s incinerator operations, according to the U.S. Embassy in Tokyo.

The suit was filed at the Yokohama District Court.

The United States has been claiming that high levels of dioxin released from the incinerators of Ayase-based Envirotech Co. are threatening the health of more than 8,000 Americans and Japanese living and working on the base.

The suit charged that Envirotech’s operations interfere with the U.S. government’s right of property use and possession under the bilateral security arrangement, according to the embassy’s press release.

“This lawsuit is an important step toward affirming our commitment to protecting all those living and working on U.S. military bases wherever they are located,” the embassy quoted the acting assistant attorney general of the U.S. Justice department’s Civil Division as saying.

A joint survey conducted in July by the Japanese government and the U.S. military detected dioxin levels considerably higher than normal at the base, located 350 meters from the incinerators.

In response to the high levels, the firm began installing filters on its incinerators in February. Work on two of its three incinerators should be completed by Friday.

When U.S. Secretary of Defense William Cohen visited Tokyo earlier this month, Japanese Defense Agency chief Tsutomu Kawara promised to build a 100-meter chimney to prevent smoke from directly affecting housing complexes. He also promised to provide temporary alternative housing for those wishing to move.

Kawara said in a statement that the Japanese government is not in a position to comment on the case. He also said the government is making concerted efforts to solve the problem.

As to the U.S. government’s litigation, Tokyo has said it has no objection.

Envirotech declined to comment on the lawsuit. The company earlier claimed, however, that the level of dioxin emitted is not as high as has been alleged by the United States.