III Degradation of Environment and Mitigation

Risk Management of Chemical Pollution: Principles from the Japanese Experience

Shigeki Masunaga

Abstract This chapter discusses some experiences of environmental pollution management in Japan. Cases include air pollution, water pollution, and toxic chemical regulation. From those experiences, it is concluded that in-process management of pollutants has been the major cause of pollutant reduction. End-of-pipe technologies, such as flue gas and wastewater treatment, are costly and not as efficient as cleaner production processes. In addition, governmental policies in environmental management, such as setting regulatory values and guiding industries, sometimes lead industries to take inefficient countermeasures. Thus, regulating agencies should take care to ensure that their policy is leading society the right way and have the flexibility to adapt their policy as necessary.

Keywords End-of-pipe treatment • In-process management • Japanese experiences of environmental pollution • Toxic chemical regulation


Japan's economic development was very rapid during the 1960–1970s, when the country was recovering from the economy's devastation as a result of World War II. As industrial development progressed, environmental pollution became evident and caused severe health damage to the people living around some industrial areas. These included four infamous cases of pollution-related health damage that resulted in major legal suits, namely, Minamata Disease around Minamata Bay in Kumamoto and Agano River in Niigata, Itai-Itai Disease on Jinzu River in Toyama, and Yokkaichi Asthma around Yokkaichi petrochemical complex in Mie. In these cases, the national and local governments were afraid of inhibiting economic development and were at first reluctant to take measures against the pollution and to compensate for the health damage. The victims therefore had to appeal to the courts to assert their rights. Indeed, the people affected by the pollution and the non-governmental groups that supported them played important roles in obtaining court decisions in favor of the victims, forcing the government and parliament to take countermeasures.

It has often been said that Japan successfully reduced pollution without hindering its economic growth. In my opinion, this statement is partially true, but not totally; there have been both merits and demerits in the way Japan acted. In this article, I would like to describe how the Japanese government and industries coped with the pollution problems and discuss what can be learned from Japanese experiences both good and bad.

How Pollution Loads Were Reduced

Air Pollution in Yokkaichi Petrochemical Complex

A large scale petrochemical industrial complex commenced operations in Yokkaichi City around 1960. It contributed about one fourth of total Japanese petrochemical production value in the early 1960s. In 1961, however, people in the surrounding area started to complain of asthma and the situation reached its worst level around 1963–1964. In those days, the sulfur content of heavy oil was about 3 % and the emission of sulfur oxides as SO2 was about 130,000–140,000 tons/year (Study Group on Global Environmental Economics 1991). In the Isodu area south of the complex, about 3 % of the one-hour-average SO2 concentration exceeded 0.5 ppm, which was 5 times higher than the current environmental standard, a one-houraverage concentration of 0.1 ppm. In 1967 the residents of the Isodu area, where the air pollution was most severe, appealed to the courts to stop the air pollution and to obtain compensation for their health damage. The courts acknowledged joint tort of the companies in the petrochemical complex and judged in favor of the plaintiffs. As a consequence, the following countermeasures were taken:

1. Introduction of environmental quality standards and stricter emissions regulation by the national government. The first regulation of individual companies' emission loads was introduced in Yokkaichi.

2. Shift to heavy oil with lower sulfur content in the petrochemical industry.

3. Construction of heavy oil desulfurization plants.

4. Installation of flue gas desulfurization equipment in the petrochemical industry.

As a result of these measures, the targeted environmental standard for SO2 was attained by 1976. Annual average SO2 concentrations at monitoring stations in Yokkaichi are shown in Fig. 14.1. Estimated emissions of SO2 in the Yokkaichi area

Fig. 14.1 Annual sulfur dioxide concentrations at monitoring stations in Yokkaichi City (based on data from Yokkaichi City (2000, 2012))

Fig. 14.2 Contribution of different factors that reduced sulfur dioxide emissions in Japan (Committee on Japan's Experience in the Battle Against Air Pollution 1997)

were drastically reduced from 140,000 tons/year in 1964 to 100,000 in 1971 and to 20,000 in 1975. After the late 1970s, gradual reduction continued. In contrast, fuel consumption in the area was relatively constant during the same period (about 4 million kL/year) (Mie Prefecture 1990). This situation could be explained by the analysis for the whole of Japan undertaken by the Committee on Japan's Experience in the Battle Against Air Pollution, as shown in Fig. 14.2 (Committee on Japan's Experience in the Battle Against Air Pollution 1997). This figure shows that fuel

Fig. 14.3 Actual production values of air pollution prevention devices (bar graph) and their contributions to GNP (line graph) in Japan (FY1966–2004). Based on Statistics Japan (Statistics Bureau 2005)

conversion (shift to oil of lower sulfur content and desulfurization of fuel) was the major cause of the reduction, followed by energy conservation. Flue gas desulfurization made only a small contribution. This experience taught us that reduction at source is important and effective compared to end-of-pipe flue gas treatment.

The petrochemical sector had to invest a considerable amount of money to achieve the reduction. Figure 14.3 shows the production of air pollution prevention devices in Japan. The first installation peak appeared around 1974 and this corresponds to the rapid improvement of air quality discussed earlier in this section for the case of Yokkaichi. The largest amount of money was used for installation of flue-gas desulfurization facilities, followed by dust-entrapping devices and oil desulfurization. It should be noted that investment in oil desulfurization facilities was minimal, but it was much more cost effective in terms of reducing emissions. However, to reduce emissions further, flue-gas desulfurization had to be installed. Overall, the most effective technology may vary according to the region and the nation's economic situation; which technology to use therefore needs to be reconsidered in each individual case. As a percentage of gross national product (GNP), investment in devices to prevent air pollution was nearly 0.25 % in 1974. This high number shows that Japan made quite a concentrated investment to counteract air pollution during the 1970s. The second peak of investment in air pollution prevention devices occurred in the mid-1990s, twenty years later. This was when the facilities built in the 1970s were updated. The second peak was almost as high as the first peak in terms of nominal value; however, the contribution to GNP was much smaller—dropping to as little as 0.07 %—due to the growth of GNP during the 20 years.

Fig. 14.4 BOD loads and their contributions in Japan (Nakanishi 1994)

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