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HOME  > Past issues  > 2023 July 19 - 25  > Arsenic level 2,100 times higher than gov't drinking water safety standard detected in a town in Hokkaido's Niseko area
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2023 July 19 - 25 [SOCIAL ISSUES]

Arsenic level 2,100 times higher than gov't drinking water safety standard detected in a town in Hokkaido's Niseko area

July 22 & 24, 2023
A high level of arsenic was detected at the site of excavation in Rankoshi Town in Hokkaido's Niseko Mountain Range, causing health damage to some townspeople.

Mitsui Oil Exploration Co., Ltd. (MOECO) was conducting a boring survey in preparation for geothermal power generation in the town located in the Niseko-Shakotan-Otaru Kaigan Quasi-National Park. On June 29, steam, which included hydrogen sulfide gas, blew out from underground, and the steam eruption still continues. On July 20, it was announced that the level of the density of arsenic is as much as 2,100 times higher than the government drinking water safety standard.

Excavated workers and people living near the site said they are physically in bad condition, and a discoloration of the forest in an area of about 7.5 hectares was confirmed.

On July 21, guided by MOECO staff, Japanese Communist Party member of the Hokkaido prefectural assembly Maruyama Harumi, Rankoshi Town assemblyperson Yanagiya Kaname, and Niseko Town assemblyperson Takagi Naoyoshi conducted an on-site inspection.

They also carried out a hearing with local farmers about their needs and worries as well as the extent of reputation damage to the town's key industry which is agriculture.

The JCP assemblymembers promised the farmers to clarify MOECO's responsibility and convey the local needs and worries to the central and prefectural governments. JCP Maruyama said, "The JCP will work with local government officials to prevent farmers from giving up farming due to this kind of contamination."

* * *

Prior to the JCP local assemblypersons' inspection, JCP member of the House of Councilors Iwabuchi Tomo on July 18 in Hokkaido's Sapporo City met with officials of the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry (METI), a supervising government body in charge of the incorporated administrative agency Japan Organization for Metals and Energy Security (JOGMEC) which provides a subsidy to MOECO.

MOECO was aware of the first medical problem when the steam spurted out on June 29. However, the company said that the level of the hydrogen sulfide gas concentration was not high enough to affect residents' health and went ahead and released the turbid water, which contained arsenic with a density far exceeding the drinkable water standard, off the site. It was on July 4 when the possible adverse health effect was exposed.

The METI officials said that it is "regrettable" for MOECO to have covered up the health damage and water contamination. MOECO did not install a "blowout preventor" as the JOGMEC safety guidelines recommend. The METI officials said, "Our stance is that the timing of installation is up to the company, but we will conduct an investigation into the cause and will examine if our handling was adequate."

Iwabuchi demanded that the central government perform a thorough investigation into this issue.
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