U.S. Water News Online
TOKYO -- Nearly 20 residents of a town near Tokyo have
developed health problems after drinking well water contaminated by
arsenic believed to have leaked from abandoned Japanese chemical
weapons from World War II, officials said.
The case surfaced last month when Kamisu town officials received a
call from a doctor urging them to check the town's well water
immediately. The doctor said a woman and child he recently examined
had arsenic poisoning symptoms, including numb limbs and dizziness,
town official Yoshimi Shinoda said.
Tests showed that the amount of arsenic in the well water, shared
by 32 people including the mother and child, was 450 times higher
than the government-set safety limit, Shinoda said. He ruled out
terrorism or crime.
Eighteen residents of the neighborhood have developed similar
symptoms, and further tests have found about a dozen more wells
contaminated in the town, he said.
Kamisu had a military airfield and a research lab, but did not
produce poison gas, town officials said. However, chemical weapons
are believed to have been stored there.
As fear swept the town, Ibaraki Gov. Masaru Hashimoto traveled to
Tokyo to seek assistance from the central government.
``Arsenic contamination is very likely to be related to wartime
poison gas,'' Hashimoto told reporters after meeting with top Cabinet
ministers. ``But we must know why it's causing a problem now.''
Town officials cautioned residents to switch to treated or bottled
water, and began distributing treated water to residents of the
One-third of Kamisu' s 50,000 residents use well water for
drinking and cooking, compared to the prefectural average of just
over 10 percent.
Experts believe the arsenic is probably the same as was used in a
wartime ``sneezing'' agent. The nonfatal gas was intended to slow the
enemy by causing sneezing and vomiting.
Japan says about 700,000 Japanese bombs containing chemical
warheads remain in China, mostly in the northeast. They must be
cleaned up by 2007 under a Chemical Weapons Convention.
Japan produced about 7,000 tons of poison gas, mainly mustard gas
and luwisite, an arsenic-based blistering fluid. China says Japan's
large remaining poison gas stockpile from the 1930s has killed at
least 2,000 Chinese since the end of World War II in 1945.
Keiichi Tsuneishi, a Kanagawa University historian, said Japan
faces the same risk from chemical weapons in its own territory.
``The problem is, we can't predict it until it happens,'' he said.
``Nobody knows exactly where they were buried.''
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