Mountains northeast of Tokyo have become blighted by tons of toxic waste and industrial rubble dumped by unscrupulous contractors, including some hired to clear debris from areas hit by the March 2011 Great East Japan Earthquake and tsunami.
By the summer, more than 100 truckloads had been dumped on upland wooded slopes in Hitachiota, Ibaraki Prefecture, a 59-year-old former land manager who accepted the waste has said.
Much of the rubble came from construction sites across the Kanto region, and has scarred otherwise pristine woodland in for the past three years.
It includes high-level toxins such as chromium, lead and arsenic and is now a menace to the area’s soil and water table, and some of the debris has slipped into waterways used to irrigate farmland.
The manager, whose identity is not being revealed, was responsible for land use in the mountains and admits inviting truck crews to dump waste there illegally, without permission from the Ibaraki Prefectural Government.
“Drums containing 10 truckloads of waste filled with highly toxic liquid are buried underground, along with several cars,” the individual told reporters.
The former manager added that the volume of waste surged after the 2011 disaster, but stopped short of saying who brought it to the site or where it came from.
Four people, including truck drivers, were indicted on charges of illegal dumping between February and October. Guilty verdicts have been passed on two of them.
The forested area is widely known as a convenient dumping ground for those involved in illegal disposal due to loose supervision by local governments. Residents have been complaining to the prefectural authorities and police since November 2011, to no avail.
As construction work for the upcoming 2020 Tokyo Olympics and Paralympics gets into full swing, waste from the Tokyo metropolitan area is expected to continue arriving.
“The prefectural government in Chiba — long a popular place to dump waste — has recently stepped up surveillance and crackdowns,” said one truck driver who used to belong to a company that disposed of debris illegally in the Kanto region. “That’s why more waste is now being moved to neighboring Ibaraki Prefecture.”
A worker for a Tokyo-based industrial waste disposal company said disposal facilities in and around Tokyo are nearly full and that is why Ibaraki will continue to be a target for illegal dumping unless municipal governments take steps to prevent it.
Environment Ministry figures show that large amounts of waste were illegally disposed in Mie, Ibaraki, Fukushima, Shiga, and Chiba prefectures between fiscal 2008 and 2013. In fiscal 2012, Ibaraki was the worst victim, with 41 recorded instances of illegal dumping.
A source said that reconstruction projects in Tokyo, Nagoya and Osaka routinely produce volumes of industrial waste that end up in adjacent prefectures.
According to the waste management law, prefectural governors can order both the producers of waste and those who dumped it illegally to remove it.
An official at the Ibaraki Prefectural Government’s waste management division said it will decide whether to order the waste’s removal from Hitachiota after ongoing police investigations wrap up.