The Environment Agency will call on every factory in the petroleum, chemical, iron- and paper-making industries to set their own targets for reducing emissions of the suspected carcinogen benzene, agency sources said Monday.

The agency decided to take the move after concluding that voluntary efforts by each industrial sector would not be enough to substantially reduce overall benzene emissions, according to the sources.

Benzene, along with trichloroethylene, was designated by the government in 1997 as a harmful airborne substance under the Air Pollution Control Law. The government has been calling on companies and factories to reduce emissions of such substances as early as possible.

The sources said the agency does not intend to directly impose regulations to reduce benzene emissions but wants each factory to draft a plan that includes a certain reduction target.

The agency also wants the plans to be made public and to have the factories sign agreements with their prefectural governments to steadily carry out their reduction goals, they said.

The Central Environment Council, an advisory panel to the Environment Agency chief, will soon begin studying the agency’s plan with an eye to finalizing it by the end of the year, according to the sources.

If necessary, the agency will also study a possible revision of the Air Pollution Control Law to require factories — estimated to total several hundred — to draw up plans to reduce benzene emissions.

A fiscal 1999 survey showed that the level of benzene in the atmosphere exceeded the maximum tolerable level of 0.003 mg per cu. meter at 79 of the 340 monitoring points across Japan, despite the industries’ voluntary efforts to cut back emissions.

High concentrations were especially detected around certain factories and along roads where traffic is heavy, the study showed.

The Japan Chemical Industry Association and other industrial organizations have already drafted a three-year plan to reduce emissions of the cancer-causing substance.

The plan helped the industries reduce benzene emissions from a total of 16,466 tons in fiscal 1995 to 9,055 tons in fiscal 1999, the agency said.

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