The Cabinet August 26 will take the nation’s first step to deal with highly toxic dioxin emissions, which are 10 times higher here than in the U.S. or Europe.

It is scheduled to adopt revised administrative ordinances for enforcing the Air Pollution Law and the Wastes Disposal and Public Cleaning Law, moves intended to curb high emissions of dioxin, an administrative vice ministerial meeting said August 25. It is hoped that the step will cut dioxin emissions by 90 percent within five years.

There is a sense of urgency in Japan since the carcinogen has been detected not only in the air but also in soil near dump sites and even in the food chain, all the way up to mothers’ milk. Scientists are currently studying the cause-and-effect relationship, but it is believed that dioxin can cause cancer and deformities.

The revised ordinances will be based on a report compiled in June by the Central Environment Council and would take effect Dec. 1. Under the new rules, dioxin, a toxic chemical often detected in the vicinity of waste incinerators, will be designated as hazardous under the Air Pollution Law. In addition, the Environment Agency will set density standards for levels of the toxin in the air.

Dioxin is emitted when vinyl chloride is incinerated. The compound is used in everyday products — throw-away lunch boxes and the bottoms of some PET bottles, for example — and environmental experts have long warned that burning these products without first removing their vinyl chloride content could have serious consequences. The move comes after repeated requests from the environment council to subject dioxin and 21 other chemicals to immediate curbs under the Air Pollution Law.

Environment Agency officials said that waste incinerators currently in operation must reduce toxic emissions to between 1 nanogram and 10 nanograms per cu. meter. A nanogram is 1 billionth of a gram. Incinerators to be built under the new rules will face strict standards — between 0.1 of a nanogram and 5 nanograms per cu. meter.

And the new rules apparently have some teeth. Incinerator operators that exceed the standards will face fines of up to 3 million yen or have their licenses revoked by the prefectural governor. But the new standards will only be applied to incinerators with a waste disposal capacity of at least 200 kg per hour. That leaves an untold number of smaller incinerators at schools and other facilities throughout Japan unregulated.

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