An amount of benzene 79 times the maximum allowed was detected among other toxic chemicals in groundwater samples gathered late last year from the new site at Toyosu, where the famous Tsukiji fish market is to be relocated, Tokyo Metropolitan Government officials said Saturday.
With the latest findings prompting questions over the veracity of data from previous groundwater tests, which rarely found problematic levels of toxins, the metropolitan government’s panel of experts said it will re-examine the groundwater there and release the result of the probe in March.
The latest finding could impact Tokyo Gov. Yuriko Koike’s decision on the timing of the market relocation, which she has already postponed so that safety concerns over the new site can be addressed.
“I am surprised to find out that detected levels came in far higher than expected,” Koike told reporters.
It is the second time that toxic substances have been found to exceed the standards. The results were reported to a panel of experts in charge of assessing the groundwater data.
Among the findings, the level of benzene — typically used in production of plastic — was 79 times the maximum level allowed, the officials said.
The chemical, which also results from the production of gas, is known to cause cancer.
Upon assuming her post in August, Koike decided to postpone the planned November relocation of the wholesale fish market, which also deals in fruit and vegetables, amid concerns about soil and air pollution. She later established a new schedule, saying the opening date will fall sometime between the end of 2017 and spring 2018, or even later.
Eight similar surveys have been conducted since November 2014, when the Tokyo government claimed it had finished taking steps to deal with soil contamination caused by the gas production plant that previously occupied the site.
In the eighth test, from which results were released last September, two toxic chemicals — benzene and arsenic — were detected in groundwater samples at levels slightly exceeding minimum standards.
At a news conference on Saturday, panel chairman Tatemasa Hirata said a surge in the levels of these chemicals in the latest survey is unusual, saying, “There is a need to look into whether this trend will continue.”
With the newest findings, the conclusive report the panel was scheduled to compile in April will be “slightly delayed,” Hirata said.
The detection of sharply higher levels of benzene and other substances in the groundwater at the Toyosu site has angered and shocked businesses at the Tsukiji market, which have been left in a limbo as the metropolitan government seeks to ensure the safety of the replacement site.
More delay — or even a termination — in the relocation plan would deal a heavy blow to fish dealers who have already invested large sums of money for the new site.
“I find (myself) with a renewed sense of surprise at how things have turned out,” said Hiroyasu Ito, chairman of the Tsukiji Market Association. Ito has been asking Koike to decide quickly whether to relocate the aging market, which opened in 1935, to the new site.
Yasuhiro Yamazaki, president of a fish processing wholesaler, said the latest finding will further raise public doubt about the safety of the relocation site.
“It is unavoidable if (the metropolitan government) is suspected of altering data (in previous surveys),” Yamazaki said.