• Kyodo

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Mercury at 5 to 7 times the national air quality standard was found in air samples from the basement of a building at the wholesale market built to replace Tokyo’s famed Tsukiji fish market, the metropolitan government said Saturday.

An analysis of air samples taken in the basement of the fruit section of the new market in late September and early this month showed the air contained 0.20-0.28 micrograms of mercury per cubic meter, according to officials.

The finding was disclosed at the first meeting of an experts panel set up to assess the safety of the air and groundwater in basements of buildings at the new facility in Tokyo’s Toyosu area.

At Saturday’s meeting, panel head Tatemasa Hirata said it was difficult to pinpoint the reason for the high level of mercury in the air samples.

One panel member pointed to the possibility of water that accumulated in the basement having evaporated or that mercury released into the air during construction remained.

Hirata, also head of the Open University’s Wakayama branch, said the three-member panel may again sample the air in that basement after thoroughly venting the space.

The panel was originally set up in May 2007 to consider soil pollution control measures at the Toyosu site, which used to be a gas production plant. In 2008, it proposed putting sufficient soil beneath market buildings for pollution prevention.

The metropolitan government had until recently said on its website that major buildings at the Toyosu market were built on a thick layer of clean soil. But last month, it said hollow concrete chambers had been built under some buildings instead.

Following that revelation, Tokyo Gov. Yuriko Koike decided to reconvene the panel of experts. The newly elected governor had already suspended the market relocation, originally planned for early November, amid concerns about soil and air pollution at the new site.

As to when she may decide on whether to relocate the Tsukiji market to the Toyosu site as planned, the governor has said she will wait until she receives the results of an analysis of groundwater at the new site and of discussions by the panel.

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