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Hanshin fans warned, Dotombori River is full of toxic sludge.

TOKYO, Sept. 13 Kyodo

As ardent Hanshin fans count down for the roaring Tigers' much-awaited pennant title, environmentalists wary of the revelers' ultimate expression of rapture -- a dive into Osaka's Dotombori River -- warn that the waterway is full of toxic sludge such as particles of heavy metals like lead and zinc, dioxins and E-coli bacteria.

Hiroaki Ishiga, a Shimane University professor who studied the heavy metal content of the sludge, says samples taken from Dotombori showed around 10 times the concentration of heavy metal compared with muddy waterways elsewhere.

''Heavy metals are basically poisons. It's crazy to dive into a place like this,'' Ishiga said.

Dotombori River -- actually a manmade canal built in the early Edo era that runs through Osaka's busy Minami area -- is traditionally ''the place'' to be when Osakans celebrate victories in major sports events, including the 2002 World Cup soccer tournament and the most recent Hanshin Tigers victory 18 years ago.

To find out the exact concentration of heavy metal in the Dotombori sludge, Ishiga took samples from five locations between Ebisu Bridge and Hiyoshi Bridge last March.

This is what Ishiga found: 140-210 parts per million (ppm) of lead, 650-700 ppm of zinc, and 470-620 ppm of copper.

Ishiga says the Dotombori sludge contains heavy concentration of residues from waster water discharged by nearby industrial plants as well as exhaust fumes discharged by cars, and these substances have been absorbed into organic matters.

Under normal circumstances, Ishiga says, these organic substances are dissolved by microorganisms or dissolved through oxidization, a process that separates heavy metal from other elements. This purification mechanism, however, works very poorly in the Dotombori where the flow of fresh, oxygen-rich water is restricted through sluices.

In a separate study conducted by the Osaka City Institute of Public Health and Environmental Sciences in October last year, researchers found that the sludge contains dioxins twice the level the government considers safe for the environment.

In anticipation of river-jumping revelers, the Osaka city office of river administration cleaned up the waterway in July, removing big garbage such as discarded bicycles that have been dumped there. The sludge, which the office says is 1 meter deep in some places, remains untouched.

Researchers are not sure to what extent the water in Dotombori would be contaminated once the sludge is disturbed by revelers who jump into the waterway. The government-accepted level of lead in drinking water is under 0.01 ppm, but the sludge contains up to 210 ppm of lead, as found by Ishiga.

Heavy metals and dioxins, however, are only some of the health hazards faced by Hanshin fans.

Another survey Osaka health authorities conducted in August shows that the concentration of E-coli bacteria in the waterway is more than five times the level that is acceptable for swimmers.

If accidentally swallowed, the water in Dotombori, with E-coli alone, can cause diarrhea and fever and any cuts will be infected, the Osaka city institute warns.

The concern was echoed by Ishiga, who says E-coli is only one of the hazards, and the addition of heavy metals are likely to pose much greater danger to Hanshin fans.
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Publication:Asian Economic News
Date:Sep 15, 2003
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