Mitsui Chemicals Inc. exported an agricultural chemical containing a toxic dioxin to the United States and Turkey for more than two years after it stopped domestic sales in March 1997, government officials said.

The chemical, pentachloronitrobenzene (PCNB), is used to destroy club root, a disease that attacks cabbages by causing their roots to swell.

Mitsui Chemicals re-examined the properties of PCNB in 1997, when the toxic nature of a range of dioxins came under scrutiny in Japan.

The company found that each kilogram of the chemical contained 13 micrograms of the toxic heptachloro dibenzo dioxin and subsequently pulled it from the domestic market in March that year.

But the company continued to export the chemical as the amount of the dioxin was less than one-seventh the level declared safe by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

The U.S. agency tolerates the use of agricultural chemicals that contain up to 100 micrograms of the dioxin. One microgram is one millionth of a gram.

The level of the dioxin chloride in Mitsui Chemicals’ PCNB also cleared the Turkish government’s safety regulations.

The company exported 2,600 tons of the product to the two countries through September 1999 while providing importers with data on the level of the dioxin chloride it contained.

A Mitsui Chemicals official said, “We stopped domestic sales of the substance (in 1997) because other bactericidal substances became widely available then.

“In 1999, we adopted the policy of stopping any shipment of products that contain dioxins, so we halted any export of those products.”

Said an official of the Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries Ministry: “Importers and the countries of the importers could have handed down a judgment on the safety of the substance, so we did not order the company to stop its exports at that time.”

However, the ethical appropriateness of the firm’s decision to continue exports of the product after 1997 could come under scrutiny, industry officials said.

In a time of both misinformation and too much information, quality journalism is more crucial than ever.
By subscribing, you can help us get the story right.