Tough dioxin rule forces 2,046 incinerators to shut.

April 6, 1999

Sources: Asahi newspaper


More than 2,000 industrial waste incinerators nationwide were closed permanently or temporarily in 1998 in advance of tougher limits on cancer-causing dioxins that took effect in December, Health and Welfare Ministry officials said Monday.

The ministry surveyed 5,886 industrial waste incinerators nationwide and closed 1,393 of them permanently and 653 others temporarily--2,046 in all. Most of those closed for good were within compounds of manufacturing and processing plants, officials said.

Many corporations are thought to have decided it is more economical to pay to have their waste processed rather than modify or build their own incinerators to comply with tougher emissions standards. 

The new ministry standards on airborne dioxin from waste-processing facilities was set at 80 nanograms (1 nanogram equals 1 billionth of a gram) per cubic meter of emitted gas. 

Before the standards were tightened, the ministry ordered the registered incinerators to monitor dioxin emissions annually. The order was neglected by 687 facilities, and 19 others continued to produce dioxin beyond the ministry guidelines, officials said. 

Since there have been no reports of a surge in illegal dumping, officials say they believe the waste that had been processed at the incinerators now closed are either being recycled or are being disposed of by private waste-handling companies. 

In one of the incinerators ordered closed under the tougher emissions limits, a facility, not further identified, was putting out 560 nanograms of dioxin per cubic meter of stack gas and had not been upgraded. 

The average of dioxin emissions from facilities that monitored their emission was 9 nanograms per cubic meter of gas emitted. Officials said they estimated that a total of 960 grams of dioxins have been emitted into the atmosphere in 1998 from those incinerators, the officials said. 

The new sets of regulations have contributed in reducing the airborne dioxins, the officials said. In 1997, the Environment Agency estimated that 4,320 grams of dioxins were emitted from incinerators that process household waste. Those surveys were resurveyed, with the finding that emissions were reduced to 1,340 grams. 

Dioxins are chemical compounds that can cause cancer and other health problems. Researchers warn that these compounds also act as environmental estrogens that could mimic reproductive processes and lead to deformities in reproductive tissue. The toxicity of dioxins is so strong that even extremely small doses could inflict health problems, research shows. 

The emissions vigilance continues, however, with the National Police Agency ordering prefectural police Monday to step up investigation of alleged illegal waste dumping and processing. 

Illegal dumping of industrial waste and open burning of trash could emit dioxins into the atmosphere, and officials said these actions are regarded as "environmental crimes." Police are being told to determine criminal responsibility of firms that illegally processed wastes and those that generated the wastes, as provided for under the Wastes Disposal and Public Cleaning Law, the officials said. 

As a start, police will strengthen to investigate disposal services operated by organized crime and other groups being watched as potential violators of proper disposal procedures, the police agency said. 

Cooperative efforts by prefectural police will be necessary since illegal dumping usually involves companies and facilities hauling the material from one prefecture to another.