EDITORIAL: Ministry failed to adopt dioxin targets in 1990

Asahi Shimbun 1998/06/19

The Health and Welfare Ministry in 1990 failed to adopt target figures for dioxin emissions from waste incinerators due to opposition from regional governments, sources said Wednesday.

The ministry did not set numeric targets until 1997. The delay is widely blamed for leaving Japan about 10 years behind Western countries in terms of anti-dioxin measures.

In 1990, the ministry decided to establish guidelines on ways to reduce dioxin emissions from waste incinerators. It formed a group of scholars and regional government officials to study specific measures.

A subcommittee of the study group came up with detailed targets for the density of dioxin in incinerator emissions, group members and ministry officials said.

It produced different figures for existing and new facilities, which were then divided depending on the type of incinerators, the sources said.

But the Health and Welfare Ministry did not adopt the proposed targets in its draft guidelines, the sources said. It agreed to include targets only for one type of new incinerator after the study group protested, the sources said.

Regional governments, which operate ordinary waste incinerators, were wary of strict requirements and they pressed the ministry to refrain from setting targets, the sources said.

In addition, the ministry was reluctant to set targets partly because of insufficient dioxin-related data for existing incinerators, the sources said.

As a result, many regional governments did not move to reduce dioxin emissions because the guidelines lacked targets for existing incinerators, which account for 80 percent of all the facilities, the sources said.

Dioxin emissions from ordinary waste incinerators--about 8 kilograms in 1990--did not drop as much as the Health and Welfare Ministry expected.

The amount stood at about half the 1990 figure in 1995, although ministry officials had estimated that it would fall to one-fourth.