Japan's World Cup football stadium built on 'highly polluted site'

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The Independent Online

The stadium in which the 2002 World Cup football finalis to be held, in the Japanese city of Yokohama, is almost on top of one of the country's highest concentrations of deadly industrial chemicals.

The stadium in which the 2002 World Cup football finalis to be held, in the Japanese city of Yokohama, is almost on top of one of the country's highest concentrations of deadly industrial chemicals.

Government analysis of soil samples from the area around the International Stadium Yokohama has revealed dangerously high levels of dioxins and polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), organic poisons suspected of contributing to cancer, birth defects and disruption of the human hormone system, The Independent has learnt. The pollution, believed to have been caused by the burning of industrial waste decades ago, has led to protests from local residents, questions in Japan's parliament and delays in the construction of a road leading to the stadium.

Tsuyoshi Nakamura, of SYS Citizens' Environmental Survey Team, said: "The authorities are putting the World Cup ahead of the interests of local people." The local voluntary group has written to the world football body Fifa, to ask for help in bringing pressure on the government. "We demand a full and detailed research study of the entire site. We demand the results are made public, because this is a problem which affects not only us, but our children and their children," Mr Nakamura said.

Little is known about the precise effects of dioxins and PCBs on humans, but the risks are believed to be long-term. The proximity of the poisoned soil is unlikely to pose an immedi-ate danger to spectators and players at the World Cup final, who will be in the area for only a few hours, but it is an embarrassment to a country with a wretched history of pollution tragedies and which is pinning hopes of international prestige on the World Cup.

The completed stadium, which seats 70,000 spectators, has been built on a large redevelopment alongside the Tsurumi river. When the site has been redeveloped it will consist of elevated roads leading to the stadium and a park and leisure area, which will double as a flood control zone. Until recently it was used by rubbish disposal companies for the unsupervised and unregulated incineration of waste, including plastics.

The ash was never removed and when Japan's construction ministry did a soil survey last year on a small part of the development it discovered at one spot that dioxin levels were more than twice the permitted level in Japan. The level of PCBs was 19.2 parts per million, almost twice the safe level of 10 parts per million.

Independent surveys by environmental groups have since suggested the levels of pollutants may be even higher, and may include arsenic, mercury and cadmium. This makes the area by the stadium the third- worst site for dioxin and PCB pollution in Japan. According to Teiichi Aoyama, the director of the Environmental Research Institute, the only places with worse pollution are areas around industrial incinerators.

"Bearing in mind this is a place where the general public can freely come and go, and that there is no incinerator, no waste plant, and no history of industrial accidents, this is the worst pollution in Japan," he said.

The areas known to be polluted are in the proposed path of a road leading to the stadium, along which guests of honour at the 2002 World Cup final will be driven to the final. More than 100,000 cubic metres of polluted soil will be generated by the construction, and there has been no agreement on how to disposed of it.

Officials from Yokohama and the construction ministry said they were too busy to comment yesterday. The Yokohama city authorities recently put up warning signs around the site, which is 500 yards from the sports stadium, but only after complaints by residents.

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