Water / Soil / Ground Environment

Conservation of the Water Environment - Chapter 1

1. History of Water Pollution Control

Although it is likely that the problem of water pollution in Japan began before industrial modernization, the first recorded major case of water pollution affecting human life and livelihood occurred during the Meiji Period (1868-1912). This problem resulted from the dumping of mine wastes from the Ashio Copper Mine into the Watarase River and resulted in damage to human health and riverside rice paddies around the turn of the century. From that time on, a gradual increase in water pollution has accompanied the growth of industry, and significant water pollution problems have emerged in various parts of Japan.

During the period of industrial reconstruction following World War II, water pollution problems emerged again. For instance, waste water from paper mills on the Edo River in Tokyo have lead to severe damage of the fisheries on Tokyo Bay and resulted in the first major public dispute over water pollution after the war. Also, contamination of waters began affecting people directly. Disasters, such as methylmercury-induced Minamata disease in southwestern Kyushu, first appeared around 1995. In response, some local governments started establishing their own water pollution regulations. In 1958, the central government promulgated two water quality laws. One law mandated the protection of water quality in public waters, and the other regulated factory effluents. However, these two laws were insufficient to respond to the increased need for environmental protection because the laws were limited in area and had less stringent control.

Rapid economic growth during the 1960s caused water pollution problems to spread and intensify. Mercury contamination in the Agano River near Niigata on the Sea of Japan coast produced a second case of Minamata disease, and cadmium contamination in the Jinzu River in Toyama also on the Sea of Japan coast resulted in a terribly painful disease called "Itai-itai" disease. In 1967, the government enacted the Basic Law for Environmental Pollution Control to promote comprehensive countermeasures against the various forms of environmental pollution. In 1970, the so-called "Environmental Pollution Diet" legislated essential improvements for the whole environmental pollution control system. Subsequently, the two water quality laws mentioned above were unified into a new and strengthened law: the Water Pollution Control Law. In addition, a new law addressing the prevention of marine pollution and maritime disasters was also enacted. The Environment Agency was established in 1971. The responsibility to manage water environments in Japan was turned over to this agency.

However, in the 1970s, serious water pollution incidents occurred with increasing frequency. Among these incidents were the massive die-off of marine biota, including cultured yellow tail, in the Seto Inland Sea in 1972 because of a large-scale red tide; a spill of heavy oil from a refinery in 1974; and chromium (VI) contamination from repeated dumping of industrial waste.
The increasing water pollution of the Seto Inland Sea, which was caused by a high population density and industrial activity in its watershed, led to frequent red tides. In response, the Interim Law for Conservation of the Environment of the Seto Inland Sea was enacted in 1973. This law was revised in 1978 and renamed the Law Concerning Special Measures for Conservation of the Environment of the Seto Inland Sea. Comprehensive measures have been taken under this permanent statute to protect the beautiful Seto Inland Sea. Also in 1978, a legal system limiting total allowable pollutant loads into designated water bodies was established to improve organic marine pollution in bays and inland seas.

This system strengthens conventional concentration-oriented controls and has been applied to Tokyo Bay and Ise Bay in addition to the Seto Inland Sea. In recent years, not only have COD and BOD values not been improving rapidly, particularly in narrow bays, inland seas, lakes serving as reservoirs, and rivers in urban areas, but also problems caused by chemical pollution have worsened. Therefore, the Law Concerning Special Measures for Conservation of Lake Water Quality was established in 1984 and a revision of the Water Pollution Control Law was passed in 1989 to prevent underground water pollution by toxic substances. As for the sea, the Environment Agency developed EQS and uniform effluent standards for nitrogen and phosphorus to prevent eutrophication of coastal seas. In addition, the Water Pollution Control Law was amended in 1996 by incorporating purification of polluted groundwater. In 1997, EQS for groundwater were established.

Water Pollution in Tagonoura (Fuji-City)
Page top