Japan Offspring Fund(JOF) is a consumer group and environmental NGO established in 1984. We have researched issues involving the safety of daily life, including chemical residues, endocrine disruptors, and genetically engineered food.

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-SAFETY OF OUR FOODS AND LIFE-
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Japan Offspring Fund (JOF) Monthly Newsletter
October 2005, No.198

* Chronology of bird flu outbreak in Japan

Japan has seen a large number of cases of avian influenza or bird flu over the past two years. Millions of birds have been culled (emergency slaughtered) in five prefectures in different parts of the country. The virus strain H5N1, that is known to be lethal also to humans, have been found in several cases. WHO reports that the current outbreak of human H5N1 infections is the largest documented since its emergence in humans in 1997.

* Sick School Syndrome

After the debate about dangerous chemicals in personal homes, the attention is now shifting to schools. Classroom air polluted with harmful substances are suspected to be the cause of children's sinus congestion, coughing, sneezing, skin irritation, and even concentration problems, that also are a concern for many teachers and parents. We also introduce the Japanese safety level standard and a U.S. EPA checklist for air quality.

* Environmental problems due to extensive logging

Recent typhoons and landslides due to heavy rain have felled a lot of trees in mountainous areas around Japan . One example is the crisis in Okayama prefecture, central Japan .


Chronology of bird flu outbreak in Japan

Japan has seen a large number of cases of avian influenza or bird flu over the past two years. Millions of birds have been culled (emergency slaughtered) in five prefectures in different parts of the country. The virus strain H5N1, a virulent pathogen that is known to be lethal also to humans, has been found in several cases. Quarantine rules have been imposed so that movement was restricted up to 30 km from the farms.

Experts say modern stock raising that involves breeding a large number of domestic animals and fowl in high density has become a risk factor for large-scale outbreaks. The globalization of the marketplace and easy mobility of people and goods have also facilitated the spread of many pathogens.
(Source: K. Inoue, University of Tokyo , Japan : "Highly Pathogenic Avian Flu , Japan " Emerg. Infect. Dis. 2004 Jul ) To read the article, please click here.
http://www.cdc.gov/ncidod/EID/vol10no7/04-0116.htm

WHO reports that highly pathogenic avian influenza viruses of the H5N1 subtype are circulating in eastern Asia with unprecedented epizootic and epidemic effects. Nine Asian countries reported H5N1 outbreaks in poultry in 2004: Cambodia , China , Indonesia , Japan , Laos , Malaysia , South Korea , Thailand , and Vietnam . This outbreak of human H5N1 infections is the largest documented since its emergence in humans in 1997.
For WHO updates, please click here.
http://www.who.int/csr/disease/avian_influenza/en/

 

Chronology ( Japan ):

2004
January 12
            First case in over 79 years discovered in Yamaguchi prefecture.
            35,000 birds culled
February 14
            The lethal virus strain H5N1 is found in Ooita prefecture.
            14 birds culled.
February 28
            H5N1 virus found in Kyoto prefecture. 250,000 birds culled.
            An additional 15,000 birds culled at a broiler farm.

2005

June 26
            H5N2 virus found in Ibaraki prefecture.
            25,000 birds culled, eggs destroyed.
August 18
            H5N2 virus found in Saitama prefecture.
            98,300 birds culled, eggs destroyed.
August 22
            Huge outbreak in Ibaraki prefecture.
            Totally at 3 farms, 1,352,000 birds culled.
            Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries eases the standard
            for destroying food products from the farms.
August 25
            Continued outbreak in Ibaraki prefecture.
            300,000 birds culled.
August 27
            Continued outbreak in Ibaraki prefecture (29 farms affected 6/26-9/5).
            90,000 birds culled.



Sick School Syndrome

After the debate about dangerous chemicals in personal homes, the attention is now shifting to schools. Classroom air polluted with harmful substances are suspected to be the cause of children's sinus congestion, coughing, sneezing, skin irritation, and even concentration problems, that also are a concern for many teachers and parents.

When government guidelines to combat the sick house syndrome were amended in 2002, Japan 's Education Ministry also decided to require testing of the air in schools at least once a year. Formaldehyde and toluene levels have to be measured, as well as xylene and paradichlorobenzene (PDB). In case the levels exceed certain limits, schools are obliged to install better ventilation and determine how to stop the cause of the pollution. Two other chemicals, styrene and ethyl benzene, were added to the list in 2004.

When the air was tested in two schools in the city of Morioka in Iwate prefecture, it became evident that the problem had been neglected. High levels of pollutants, that exceeded the safety standards could be found in the classrooms. Several children were diagnosed with health problems that could be traced to the presence of the known toxins.

Japan Offspring Fund and a group of concerned teachers interviewed Dr. Masahiko Terasawa, who warns that this is a nation-wide crisis.

Q: Why did people start to pay attention to this problem in Iwate prefecture?
A: We held symposiums in two cities, starting on July 9, 2005. We announced that high levels of formaldehyde had been found in classrooms. The authorities had not alerted parents or even informed the school personnel. There was anger that nothing had been done to reduce the amounts of the chemicals. The testing revealed that 111 classrooms in 50 schools had levels that exceeded the safety limits in Morioka city. In some cases, the levels of formaldehyde were four times or higher than the safety limit. Toluene levels were also very high.

Q: What about health check-ups on the children?
A: That was not done.

Q: Don't you think there were any health problems?
A: Indeed. Since the authorities did not notify the schools or the PTAs, many sick kids might have appeared without anyone being able to guess the cause. Some classrooms should have been closed and not allowed to be used.

Q: What kind of effect can we expect in the children?
A: It is important to watch out for a number of symptoms, including headaches, nausea or vomiting, sinus congestion and running noses, itchy skin, dizziness, and so on. Another physical symptom is a frequent need to urinate. Mentally, a common symptom is concentration difficulties. As for special classrooms, such as computer rooms, there is a need for considerable ventilation. Unless you pay attention to that, the situation will become terrible, since personal computers contain many toxic chemicals. Also the library can have a bad environment, with so many books containing glues and other volatile toxins.

Q: Can we be sure that the schools are to blame? Couldn't the cause be the poor health of the children in general, or their mental state?
A: You can be sure that a healthy kid, who only feels these symptoms in the classroom, is in fact responding to the sick school syndrome. What concerns me most is that there is no information, and that parents and school personnel are not told about the high levels of air pollutants. Still, if you pay attention to the health condition of the kids, you can start to draw conclusions.

Q: What should be done?
A: Well, we have strict standards about swimming pool water quality. In the same way, people need to understand that strict air quality standards for classrooms are important for kids' health, and that inspections must be carried out.

Q: The problem is also evident when new schools are being built, as in an elementary school in Chofu City in Tokyo , where the children's condition is terrible. Hypersensitivity to chemicals among school children is a real problem, and measures are needed.
A: Yes, the problem is everywhere. Remember that there are many repairs, and that school yards and gardens often are sprayed with insecticides. I can give a number of examples, such as floor wax, high formaldehyde levels in new desks, and pollution from ink in new textbooks. In addition kids are using cosmetics. They are also exposed to other chemicals such as moth balls, that release formaldehyde, from their clothes.

Q: It seems like a terrible waste of tax payers' money to do testing, and not go public with the results, and avoid trying to improve the situation.
A: Yes! For example, in Nagano prefecture, the board of education has published a great manual about sick school syndrome, and what measures need to be taken. Sickness can occur even with exposure levels lower than the current safety limits, so in my opinion, every child should be tested. The results should be published. Then there should be workshops, that gather all stakeholders. The head teachers and principals really must understand the seriousness of this issue, otherwise nothing will improve. To conclude, I would like to add that we should not only be concerned with the kids that are already showing symptoms, but make sure that we take measures to protect all school children from sick school syndrome.

Safety Levels of Chemicals in Air
(Source: The Standard of School Environment Hygiene)

Formaldehyde Less than 100 g/m3 (0.08ppm)
Toluene Less than 260 g/m3 (0.07ppm)
Xylene Less than 870 g/m3 (0.20ppm)
PDB Less than 240 g/m3 (0.04ppm)
Ethyl Benzene Less than 3800 g/m3 (0.88ppm)
Styrene Less than 220 g/m3 (0.05ppm)


Checklist to avoid sick school syndrome

Even if you do not have access to testing equipment, there is a lot you can do to determine if the indoor air is problematic. This checklist from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency can be useful in determining if a proper examination is needed, by a specialist in the field. Check the following sources of indoor air pollutants:

Typical Sources of Indoor Air Pollutants

Outside Sources

Building Equipment

Component/Furnishings

Other Indoor Sources

Polluted Outdoor Air

Pollen, dust, fungal spores; Industrial emissions; and Vehicle emissions

Nearby Sources

Loading docks; Odors from dumpsters; and Unsanitary debris or building exhausts near outdoor air intakes

Underground Sources

Radon; Pesticides; and Leakage from underground storage tanks

HVAC Equipment

Microbiological growth in drip pans, ductwork, coils, and humidifiers; Improper venting of combustion products; and Dust or debris in ductwork

Non-HVAC Equipment

Emissions from office equipment (volatile organic compounds, ozone); and Emissions from shops, labs, cleaning processes

Components

Microbiological growth on soiled or water-damaged materials; Dry traps that allow the passage of sewer gas; Materials containing volatile organic compounds, inorganic compounds, or damaged asbestos; and Materials that produce particles

Furnishings

Emissions from new furnishings and floorings; and Microbiological growth on or in soiled or water-damaged furnishings

Science laboratories; Vocational arts areas; Copy/print areas; Food prep areas; Smoking lounges; Cleaning materials; Emissions from trash; Pesticides; Odors and volatile organic compounds from paint, chalk, adhesives; Occupants with communicable diseases; Dry-erase markers and similar pens; Insects and other pests; and, Personal care products.

To read more about EPA's guidelines for indoor air, please click here.http://www.epa.gov/iaq/schools/tfs/guide01a.html


Environmental problems due to extensive logging

Recent typhoons and landslides due to heavy rain have felled a lot of trees in mountainous areas around Japan . One example is the crisis in Okayama prefecture, central Japan .

The quality of the timber from the logs of fallen trees are now becoming a concern. For people who are considering building a log house, it is important to make sure that the timber does not come from such logs. Wind-fallen trees often have weaknesses, and homes built with such timber will not be earthquake-proof. The JAS standard for wood products will not accept wood from such timber to be used for construction. The only use should be as pulp for paper production.

Experts say Japan has made many mistakes in the past, as the tree planted on mountains were not strong enough to withstand typhoons. Cypress and cedar with weak roots are not suitable for many regions in Japan . Extensive logging in the past has caused environmental problems, that must not be repeated. It is clear that the devastation in Okayama prefecture due to Typhoon 23 in October, 2004 was made worse by human mistakes.

 

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