By Ichiro Hatae and Ryotaro Maeda / Yomiuri Shimbun Staff WritersThe latest test of the groundwater at the new Toyosu wholesale food market in Koto Ward, Tokyo, found almost the same levels of toxic substances on the site as the previous survey.
An expert panel deemed the relocation site to be “safe scientifically and legally,” but work remains to reassure the public of that fact. Tokyo Gov. Yuriko Koike is being forced to make a tough decision over whether to relocate the market to Toyosu or let it remain in the Tsukiji district of Tokyo’s Chuo Ward.
“We’ll take the word ‘provisional’ out of the ‘provisional values’ [used to describe the figures from the previous survey], so these values are now the official ones,” the head of the expert panel, Tatemasa Hirata, said at a Sunday meeting, endorsing the results of the previous survey. The previous survey was the ninth to be conducted.
The latest survey was conducted at 27 spots, in response to the discovery of high levels of toxic substances in the ninth survey.
The above and below ground areas at the market are separated by such substances as concrete and asphalt, making it highly unlikely that market workers would ever touch contaminated soil or groundwater. The market does not use groundwater.
Hirata, the chief of the Open University of Japan’s Wakayama Study Center, repeatedly emphasized the safety of the Toyosu site, saying: “The condition above ground is the same as here [the Tsukiji market]. The area is alright from a scientific standpoint.”
Panel member Tohoku University Prof. Takeshi Komai said: “The current concentrations of benzene aren’t viewed as problematic. We have thoroughly debated ‘safety.’ Future groundwater measures will be implemented just to provide ‘reassurance.’”
Standard for reassurance
With the panel clearly affirming the safety of the Toyosu market, discussion of the relocation issue is now focused on whether the site can win consumers’ confidence, a key point for Koike.
Groundwater monitoring surveys at the Toyosu site began in November 2014, with nine scheduled to be conducted over a two-year period.
In August last year, Koike decided to postpone the relocation due to “concerns over safety” because the opening of the Toyosu market was scheduled for November, before the results of the ninth survey were to be released.
The latest survey proved the safety of the site, but the level of public confidence cannot be quantified.
In the Tokyo metropolitan assembly, Liberal Democratic Party assembly members have repeatedly demanded that Koike clarify a standard for judging the public’s confidence.
She responded by saying, “There is distrust regarding the Toyosu site, and there is still insufficient evidence to dispel that distrust.”
Koike also expressed her opinion that the Tsukiji market still outweighed the Toyosu market in terms of confidence, saying, “Tsukiji has a reputation for operating for a long time as a fish market.”
According to a schedule that Koike announced in November last year, she is set to indicate her decision on the relocation sometime this summer. If the governor decides on relocation, the Toyosu market would open sometime in winter this year or spring next year at the earliest.
However, unexpected events such as the additional groundwater test took place, and the expert panel’s announcement of official reports that was originally planned for April may move to June or later, clouding the later schedule.
A senior LDP assembly member said: “The decision on public confidence is entirely up to Koike’s subjective view. It may be her strategy not to commit herself until the assembly election in summer, so as to portray the LDP, which is supporting relocation, as the villain.”
A 54-year-old tuna wholesaler said: “The relocation issue is a political tool, and the market workers are being ignored. Various facilities and equipment in Tsukiji are past their time, and we have no time to waste.”
Koike has not clarified the timing of her final judgement. A senior assembly member said: “Efforts to re-equip Tsukiji market have fallen through in the past. The Toyosu market needs to dispel the distrust that has grown to this level. Either choice [by Koike] is going to be criticized.”Speech