National

Tsukiji workers demand answers over toxic soil at new site

by Magdalena Osumi

Staff Writer

Amid ongoing preparations to relocate Tokyo’s world-famous Tsukiji fish market, wholesalers and consumers voiced fury Monday over the Tokyo Metropolitan Government’s plan to move the market to a new site that has significant soil pollution problems.

Representatives of the wholesalers and workers who process fish at Tsukiji demanded at a news conference that Tokyo Gov. Yoichi Masuzoe respond to their concerns over pollution and construction problems at the new site in the Toyosu district of Koto Ward.

Last summer, the Tokyo Metropolitan Assembly decided the market will be moved from its current site in Chuo Ward’s Tsukiji neighborhood to the Toyosu area due to a lack of space and sanitary issues.

Construction work is expected to be completed this spring and the market is set to open at the new site Nov. 7.

Tsukiji, which has been running at its current site since 1935, is scheduled to shut down for good Nov. 2.

“If (Masuzoe) can’t find answers to our concerns about food safety and logistics, we want (the Tokyo Metropolitan Government) to at least delay opening of the new site,” said Makoto Nakazawa, secretary-general of the Tokyo Central Market.

The group Protect Tsukiji accused the government of deliberately hiding information on high levels of ground pollution beneath the new facility in order to speed up construction at the new site.

The pollution problem emerged in 2001 when Tokyo Gas Co., which operated a factory on the land for the new site, revealed that the area is highly contaminated. It said the soil contains high levels of lead, arsenic, hexavalent chromium, cyanogens and benzene.

Through its own research, the group claims to have found that the metropolitan government failed to conduct legally required tests in more than 300 areas at the bottom of the aquifer.

Despite the government’s assurance it has conducted all of the necessary tests, which were also recommended by a special panel in charge of the issue, the group claims the official reports were falsified.

“We have yet to received any explanation in response to our concerns, or any details of the project,” said Protect Tsukiji’s Nakazawa.

The group also claimed that specifications included in the facility’s design do not meet basic requirements for conducting work.

They pointed out that, regardless of the design, in reality each fish handler will have to work in a space roughly equivalent to a tatami mat 1.4 meters in length — the upshot being that customers will not be able to enter the site, as it will be too cramped.

They also pointed out that the load capacity of the flooring is insufficient. It is estimated at 700 kg in some areas of the new facility, which also lacks space for forklifts to transport the fish. The market in Tsukiji currently handles about 1,800 tons of seafood a day.

“(The new site is) supposed to be operational well into the future,” said Nakazawa.

“We only want to maintain the existing brand of Tsukiji . . . and point out that it’s a serious situation that will affect food safety,” Yasuaki Yamaura, secretary-general of Consumers Union of Japan, told reporters. “It will have an impact on the future of Japan’s fishing industry.”