Impact on Environment and Damage to Health

Open incineration in an area by the sea, Ashiya (Mar. 5, 1995)
Piles of earthquake waste at the disposal center, Fusehata, Kobe city (Oct. 27, 1995)
Asbestos thrown away in the disposal center, Fusehata, Kobe city (Oct. 27, 1995)
Temporarily established incinerators in full-operation at the disposal center, Fusehata, Kobe city (Oct. 27, 1995)

The earthquake-related impacts on the environment can be categorized into three sections. (1) Conflagrations caused by the earthquake: There is an estimate regarding how much of what kinds of chemical substances were burnt but unfortunately there was no investigation conducted after the conflagrations. (2) Demolition work-related: The problem with scattering asbestos used in the demolished constructions attracted a certain level of attention but the problem of concrete particles, to which residents in the disaster-affected areas were exposed to as much as the workers were, was not grasped. (3) Disposal of earthquake waste: Many residents in the areas near disposal centers, especially the weak such as the elderly and children, were greatly influenced. The situation was, however, not sufficiently grasped.

According to research conducted half a year after the earthquake in the disaster-hit areas, 25% of responders answered that their health was influenced after the disaster, 70% of which said it was an impact on the respiratory organs. Such respiratory disorders were most likely caused by exposure to dusts from the works of buildings demolition and exhaust gas from heavy machinery, trucks and other vehicles for construction and conveyance, and toxic gas from the conflagrations and open incineration of waste.

Earthquake Waste and Air Pollution

After the great earthquake, a huge amount of waste of about 20 million tons was emitted in only just the 20 municipalities designated as "severely damaged" by the Disaster Relief Act. It was about eight times as much as the entire amount of the general waste emitted in Hyogo prefecture in the year previous to the earthquake. The whole amount of destroyed objects by the earthquake was treated as waste, with little consideration given to recycling.

About 80% of the earthquake waste, in terms of weight, was incombustible garbage, of which 70-80% was concrete and mortar, and the rest was steel frames and aluminum sashes. Combustibles, which occupied about 20%, consisted of wood, paper and plastics.

Ten places were designated as disposal centers for earthquake waste in Hyogo prefecture. Though temporarily, some waste was incinerated in open fields and in one case, the longest period, this continued for three months. The gas from the incineration obviously caused allergies and asthma attacks for the weak such as infants and the elderly who were exposed to it.

Air pollution was caused by the fact that there was such a huge amount of earthquake waste consisting of objects unsafe to the environment. One cause of the increase in the waste was the fact that even restorable buildings were demolished at once with public aid.

Dioxin Generated in the Incineration

It is well-known nowadays that dioxins are generated during the process of waste incineration. It is not possible to find out exactly how much of the earthquake waste was incinerated, but it is said that the municipal governments disposed of 2.78 million tons of earthquake waste, of which 2.09 million tons was disposed of by incineration. The incinerated ash is believed to have contained a high concentration of dioxins and heavy metals.

MIYATA Hideaki, a professor at Setsunan University reported in his book about dioxin contamination (Yoku Wakaru Daiokishin Osen), 1998, "With the amount emitted into the air given consideration, the amount of dioxins generated in the open incineration equals the amount generated by the 1976 agrochemical plant explosion in Seveso, Italy."

Also according to the result of research on the seafloor about two kilometers off shore between Nagata-ward and Suma-ward, Kobe, for three years from 1997, conducted by SAKAI Shinichi, director at the Research Center for Material Cycles and Waste Management, the National Institute for Environmental Studies, the concentration which had been around 10 picogram per 1 gram suddenly increased to 38 picogram -- nearly 4 times. Also the mud containing dioxin was traced to have been carried down by two rivers which run through Nagata-ward and Suma-ward, where conflagration occurred. It is concluded that dioxins generated in the quake-hit areas flew down through the rivers and accumulated on the seafloor.

Landfill Disposal Ignoring Safety

The total amount of waste directly buried in the ground was 0.67 million ton, combining 0.45 million ton disposed by municipalities and 0.22 million ton by the consigned private sector.

In a landfill site in the mountains in Kobe city, Fusehata site, all sorts of earthquake waste including toxic chemical substances were piled up mountain-high and a temporarily established incinerator was in a full-operation. A great amount of asbestos was left in bags. There was no environment-protection such as rubber sheeting in the Fusehata site. In July, 1999, the fifth year after the earthquake, an official in charge said "the asbestos was buried there just as it was"

The disposal and leaving of the earthquake waste for stopgap is causing serious secondary contamination.

(FUJINAGA Nobuyo / GOTOH Takao)