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City Belatedly Reports Contaminated Drinking Water

September 9, 1988

TOKYO (AP) _ Officials in a city near Tokyo discovered last year that industrial waste contaminated wells used for the drinking water of up to 25,000 people, but they waited until Thursday to announce it.

″Though we had found the levels to be in excess, we were still unsure just how widespread it was,″ said Masaru Yano of the Kimitsu city office’s Environment Conservation Department.

Yano said the city waited to announce the contamination because investigations still were under way, but he said a small number of residents directly affected by it were told earlier.

He said the substance found in the wells, trichloroethylene, may cause cancer in humans. Acceptable levels in drinking water were established by Health and Welfare Ministry guidelines in 1984.

In March 1987, officials found two of seven local wells in Kimitsu, 27 miles southeast of Tokyo, contaminated with the substance. The city then expanded its investigation to cover 43 wells.

Between May 1987 and June 1988, 10 wells were found to have been polluted, with one registering 237 times the acceptable level of 0.03 milligrams per liter, according to Yano.

Four of the 10 contaminated wells were not in use, but water from one is believed to have mixed with a larger system used by 25,000 residents, said an official with the Kimitsu Waterworks Department. The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said all contaminated wells have been shut down.

The 25,000 residents, whose water would have been diluted by uncontaminated supplies, were not informed until Thursday.

Soon after the original findings, eight households using water directly from the wells were told to boil their water before drinking it, Yano said.

He said the pollution is believed to have originated from an industrial plant owned by the Toshiba Components Co., but an investigation has not been completed.

A plant official said that after being informed of the contaminated wells, the plant offered to ″donate″ water purification equipment worth an estimated $225,000. Some equipment now is being tested.

″Our decision to donate the equipment does not mean that we are accepting responsibility,″ said Katsuo Inami, head of the Toshiba Components plant’s General Affairs Division. ″By donating equipment we hope to speed up efforts to determine the source of the pollution.″

But Inami said as far as he knew the plant was the only one in the area using trichloroethylene and ″may have been a pollutant in the past.″ The company has operated since 1967 and used the chemical since 1972, he said.

Hisashi Yano, an official with the Water Quality Bureau of the Environment Agency, said although trichloroethylene ″has been found by some to be a possible carcinogen, we cannot say for certain whether it actually causes long- or short-term harm.″

Trichloroethylene is used mainly as an industrial cleanser, but is also used by dry cleaners.

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