Asbestos – Japan tsunami’s other hidden health danger
SENDAI: inside the chunkof slate and wallboard smashed and scattered by Japan’s tsunami hides a health risk that has been overshadowed by contamination from a leaking nuclear plant – the odourless and nearly invisible threat of asbestos.
Activist have found the cancer-causing, fibrous material in the air and debris collected from the devastated north-eastern coast.
Levels in the air remain within Japan’s safety range but are expected to rise significantly once cranes and clean-up crews begin their work in earnest, scraping and shaking loose the minuscule white fibers from insulation and fireproofing layers.
Local officials are overwhelmed by the aftermath of the March 11 earthquake and tsunami, including the swamped nuclear reactor that has leaked radiation as engineers struggle to restore its cooling systems.
The officials in hard-hit areas such as Miyagi prefecture acknowledge thay had yet to focus on asbestos and the potential contamination of other such airborne particles.
Meanwhile, workers, volunteers and residents roam freely through the debris. Some wear mask; others do not, despite the plumes of dust that shoot up every time a giant steel claw grabs a load of debris.
On windy days, particles swirl in the air. They sting eyes and irritate throats before leaving behind a thin layer of dust on whatever passes through.
“There are a lot of people goin back into the rubble to search for valuables and photos,” said Takuo Saitou, a Sendai-based attorney and spokesman for a group tackling defective home issues in northern Japan.
“There are people not even wearing masks. This is like suicidal act,” he said.
“We want people to know this is a problem.” – AP