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Residents up in arms against waste disposal facility

Date Posted: 2003-12-25

Residents in the tiny village of Oura on Miyako Island are angry as a special committee was set up to investigate a dioxin leak at a nearby waste disposal facility. The residents claim that the committee is trying to sell them a bag of lies. The facility had a fire in Nov. 2001, and as a result, dioxin leaked into a nearby ditch and pond. The facility also emitted foul smells, and many local residents complained about suffering headaches and vomiting as a result.

Okinawa Prefecture and Hirara City, which oversee the facility, set up a committee to investigate the environmental and health problems that the fire and subsequent leak could cause. The committee consists of several doctors and health specialists with Sho Watanabe, a professor at Tokyo Agricultural University, as it’s chairman.

The committee explained its findings to date at a public meeting at Oura on Sunday. Watanabe admitted that there indeed had been a dioxin leak, but he argued that it had been so small that no ill effects on residents’ health could be expected. “The amount of leaked dioxin was very small, its concentration in the surrounding areas is well below legal limits, and it cannot be considered as a health hazard,” Watanabe said.

Residents, however, claim that when they conducted their own investigation in May 2002, they found that the dioxin concentration was well above permissible limits. Many suspect that the committee is somehow trying to defend the facility and its operator, and claim that the committee is telling something less than the whole truth in their report. “I think you are trying to defend the disposal company’s illegal way of doing business. We even have a video tape that we made ourselves last year in November that proves what we say,” one seemingly angry Oura resident said at the meeting.

Residents also claim that foul smell still leaks from the facility from time to time causing headaches to some people. Whether the facility operated within legal limits or not, Hirara City and the prefecture have promised to conduct free regular medical checks for residents for the foreseeable future. They also promised to cover the contaminated ditch and pond with concrete to ensure its safety.

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