National / Politics

Toyosu missing-soil probe draws a blank on who changed plans and why

by Magdalena Osumi

Staff Writer

An inquiry into corner-cutting at a polluted site selected to become Tokyo’s main wholesale foods market has failed to identify who changed construction plans and why.

The findings, announced Friday, led to an infuriated Tokyo Gov. Yuriko Koike proposing protections for whistleblowers to prevent such cover-ups.

She said the probe failed in its principal aim: to determine why a thick layer of clean soil was never laid at the site. Instead, empty basements are now subject to water welling up and bringing with it toxins such as arsenic, cyanide and benzene.

“Officials and staffers responsible for the project continuously misinformed Tokyo Metropolitan Assembly members, Tokyo residents and market staffers,” she told reporters. “I have to say, they failed to fulfill their responsibilities.”

The site was selected in 2007 to replace the aging Tsukiji fish market, with toxins detected there the following year. Construction of new market buildings was supposed to include remediation work to reduce the risk of contamination.

The governor said the investigation was such a whitewash that it cannot form the basis for reforms of the metropolitan administration and prevent similar scandals in the future.

Instead, she said Tokyo needs whistleblowers and urged them to come forward. She said she would introduce a system that protects such activity in future.

She said the case is not done yet, as she plans to cross-question previous governors and other officials who handled the Toyosu project.

The new market building was supposed to stand on a 4.5-meter-thick layer of clean soil. This plan was later modified five times, Koike said, leading to the current situation where facilities earmarked for seafood and fruit and vegetable dealers have nothing beneath them but an empty basement with a thin concrete floor covered with water containing traces of benzene and arsenic.

Measurements at the greengrocer section released Thursday showed the toxin levels slightly exceed safety limits: benzene and arsenic were 0.014 milligrams and 0.011 milligrams per liter at two locations, exceeding the safe standard of 0.01 milligram.

Similar surveys had been carried out seven times since November 2014, but this is the first time toxic substances have been found to exceed safe levels.

Koike said a decision on whether the site is safe to house merchants from Tsukiji will be made after tests are carried out in November. Those results will be released in January at the earliest. “The market cannot function if safety is not ensured,” she said.

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