The Environment Ministry will pay the medical bills of residents of Kamisu, Ibaraki Prefecture, who fell ill after drinking water from wells contaminated by arsenic. The measures were announced Wednesday.
It is believed that the wells have been contaminated by poison gas abandoned by the Japanese military at the end of World War II, although the national government has not found any chemical weapons buried in the area.
So far, 20 people in Kamisu have reported numbness in their limbs, headaches, dizziness and other symptoms.
It is extremely rare for the government to provide financial support to people without clear evidence that connects their health problems to governmental negligence.
“Even though no evidence has been found, it is highly likely that the water was contaminated with poison gas dumped by the military,” given that the military operated a chemical laboratory in the area, Environment Minister Shunichi Suzuki told a news conference.
The aid covers Kamisu residents who drank water from arsenic-contaminated wells in the town and have shown signs of poisoning through tests of their hair and urine.
The government will pay for their future medical expenses and offer an additional allowance of between 15,000 yen and 25,000 yen per month.
The government will also cover previous medical expenses of people who were taken ill after drinking water from the worst affected well, where arsenic levels reached 450 times higher than the national water quality standard.
People who were hospitalized in the past for treatment will be given 700,000 yen, while those who received treatment as outpatients will receive 300,000 yen in the initial year of the aid program.
The national government will also provide 20,000 yen a month for three years to people who have been affected and agree to submit reports of their health, allowing research to be carried out on their symptoms.
The Environment Ministry will set up an investigation team to determine the appropriate treatment for victims by conducting health examinations on a regular basis and analyzing their medical records.
The contamination came to light during an investigation conducted after workers at a number of construction sites fell ill.
In September, construction workers in Samukawa, Kanagawa Prefecture, fell ill after coming into contact with bottles that were later found to contain residue of mustard gas. Similarly, construction workers in Hiratsuka, Kanagawa Prefecture, complained of illnesses, and later soil at the site was found to contain high levels of substances related to poison gas.
In March, the Ibaraki Prefectural Government examined wells in Kamisu after local residents had complained of health problems. Initial tests found high levels of arsenic contamination.
The ministry began checking the most heavily contaminated well and surrounding areas on May 29, using radar devices to search for the cause. So far it has been unable to find evidence that proves the link between the contaminated water and the poison gas.
It will conduct a drilling survey early next week.
Kamisu residents who have complained of illness spoke appreciatively of the government’s action. “We feel relieved that the government took such a quick move to help us,” one of the victims said.
Miyuki Aotsuka, whose son and daughter have developed walking and speaking difficulties, said her children’s voices had finally reached the government.
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