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Ministries, prefecture declare Saitama products safe.

TOKYO, March 25 Kyodo Three ministries and the Saitama prefectural government declared tea and spinach grown in the prefecture safe for consumption Thursday after tests found dioxin levels in samples to be the same or lower than national standards. The tests were conducted on samples mainly from the western Saitama Prefecture city of Tokorozawa, immediately after public concerns were raised by a TV Asahi report early last month that said high concentrations of dioxin, a suspected carcinogen, were detected in vegetables grown in the prefecture. While the results are considerably different from the initial reports, which caused prices of vegetable in the area to plunge, the lack of available details on how and exactly where the samples were taken could still leave doubts about the risks the public faces. The Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries Ministry, the Health and Welfare Ministry, the Environment Agency and the Saitama prefectural government conducted the separate tests on samples taken from 10 spots in three cities and two towns where spinach is grown. The tests for tea were conducted on samples from six spots in two cities, ministry and prefectural officials said. In the tests by the ministries, samples of spinach ready for shipping yielded dioxin concentrations measuring 0.0086-0.18 picogram per gram, or an average of 0.051 picogram. A picogram is one-trillionth of a gram. Saitama's tests detected a range of 0.0081 to 0.13 picogram per gram of spinach, at an average of 0.046 picogram. These results approximate to the levels of dioxin measured in tests conducted by the Health and Welfare Ministry on vegetables sampled throughout the country in fiscal 1997, which ranged from 0.044 to 0.43 picogram and averaged 0.19 picogram. Green tea samples, meanwhile, yielded 0.58-1.7 picograms per gram in the ministries' tests, averaging 1.1 picograms. After leaving the tea leaves in 100 C water for five minutes, 0.002 picogram of dioxin was found per liter of water, with a solubility rate of just 0.01%. Saitama's tests on tea leaves yielded similar results, the prefectural officials said. The ministries also conducted tests for dioxins present in the environment at the 10 sites and detected an average 0.39 picogram per cubic meter of air, with dioxin particles settling to the ground at the rate of 1 milligram per cubic meter of air in one month. These results amounted to only half the concentration of dioxin detected in tests conducted by the Environment Agency in the same area in fiscal 1997, which ended in March 1998. The spinach samples were taken from the cities of Tokorozawa, Kawagoe and Sayama and the town of Miyoshi, while the tea samples were taken from the cities of Tokorozawa and Iruma. The results of these tests are considerably lower than the results of a survey conducted by a private institute on which the TV Asahi report was based -- a discrepancy the agriculture ministry ascribed to differences in sampling methods. According to the survey conducted by the Tokyo-based Environmental Research Institute Inc., the dioxin concentration in vegetables, including spinach, produced in Tokorozawa was 0.64-3.8 picogram per gram. The survey also revealed that green tea leaves yielded the highest level of dioxin concentration of 3.8 picograms per gram. The prefectural government also said then after releasing the survey results that dioxin levels either in the tea leaves or vegetables do not pose a significant health hazard.
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Publication:Japan Weekly Monitor
Geographic Code:9JAPA
Date:Mar 29, 1999
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