Sunday, May 20, 2012

Source of Formaldehyde in Water Supply in Kanto Still Not Identified, as Water Department Officials Party and "Baseless Rumors" Start to Spread

As the authorities taking ample time acknowledging and identifying the problem of formaldehyde detected at water purification plants along the Tone River that runs through Gunma, Saitama, and Chiba Prefectures, people have started to form their own hypothesis.

First, the timeline of the events: The first detection of formaldehyde may have been on May 15, 4 days before the authorities stopped the water intake. The following timeline is from a popular message board (as quoted by the Portirland blog), so this could also be part of the "baseless rumors". But it has been verified (see Mainichi Shinbun article on 5/19/2012; in Japanese) that the first detection of formaldehyde was on May 15 in Kasukabe City, as this timeline suggests.

  • Formaldehyde leaked from a factory sometime, somewhere along the Tone River

  • May 15: Formaldehyde detected at the water plant in Kasukabe City in Saitama Prefecture

  • May 17: Saitama Prefecture notified the Water Department of Gunma Prefecture of the detection

  • May 17 evening: Gunma Water Department had a party (newspaper article copy also at Portirland blog)

  • May 18: The news of formaldehyde detection was leaked to the press

  • May 19: Some water purification plants stopped water intake, affecting residents and businesses

  • May 19 afternoon: Gunma Water Department started investigation

  • May 20: Gunma Water Department's partying on May 17 was reported in the press

  • May 20: Misato Water Purification Plant in Saitama Prefecture stopped water intake. Gunma Prefecture still cannot identify the source of formaldehyde.

Nature abhors a vacuum, and this information vacuum is being filled by some fantastic stories that circulate on the net in Japan. Here are some I noticed:

  • It is an act of sabotage by a foreign element.

  • It is not formaldehyde, but it is plutonium.

  • It is not formaldehyde, but it is cesium.

  • It is not formaldehyde but it is strontium.

  • They were using some resin that contains formaldehyde to remove cesium.

  • It is not formaldehyde, but something in the water reacted with the reagent (to test the water quality) and turned into formaldehyde.

The last one is supposedly a quote from an unnamed official in a water department of an unnamed city along the Tone River. It looks plausible, but then the blog that quoted this information and people who read the information concluded this "something in the water" must be a radioactive material (plutonium, cesium, strontium, or any other radioactive material of choice).

Sankei Shinbun (5/20/2012) says it will be impossible to identify the source (and therefore it won't be done) because there are hundreds of chemical substances that react and generate formaldehyde. Sankei Shinbun also quotes the partying Gunma Water Department, who says:


"It is possible that the flow of the substance that caused contamination has stopped already. At this point, we don't know exactly where the contamination first started."

which is not really true. According the same Sankei article, Saitama Prefecture has narrowed down the source of contamination along the Karasugawa River, a tributary of the Tone River, near Takasaki City in Gunma Prefecture. Instead of partying and hiding the contamination, the Gunma Water Department could have started visiting the factories along the river.


Anonymous said...

None of this is surprising to me because I already expect governments and businesses to be absolutely and utterly incompetent in ensuring safety of any kind for the rest of us.

Despite this, I still feel disgusted by the complete lack of intelligence exhibited by those... sub-human parasital parameciums. I wish I was paid a fortune to sit on my hands, just like them.

Atomfritz said...

Seems like notorious incuriousness and cover-up cartels of government and polluters are still Japanese normality.

But, I still don't understand why the water supply of so many people has been shut down completely instead of just warning them not to use the water for cooking and drinking.
Imho quite an over-reaction.
Looks to me like large-scale preparations to dull the Japanese into accepting more and more environmental catastrophes that cannot be seen, tasted or smelled.

By the way, cleaning teeth with the water should't be excessively risky at these formaldehyde concentrations anyway, as some widely used mouth rinsing solutions against bad breath are allowed to contain up to 0.1% of formaldehyde at least in Germany (which is increasingly being criticized).
Cosmetics can contain even more formaldehyde as preservants, nail hardeners up to 5%. [*]


Anonymous said...

Erstam said:

To not look for the source, hoping it will stop without intervention...
That remember me this passage in Gulliver's travel, with the floating city which fall in the ground. The researchers of the city decide to not do anything because: "Perhaps if we do nothing the problem will resolve itself." ^^'

Anonymous said...

Welcome to Japan -- the developed country run by people with a developing country mentality.

Anonymous said...

From Yomiuri Shinbun (

"However, the bureau denied the possibility that the contaminated water poses any health risk to local residents.

According to the bureau, formaldehyde levels in water from the Misato plant would be almost halved by the time it reached individual households, as it would be mixed with water from other purification facilities."

In Japan it doesn't matter if it's radioactive contamination or other poisons, they always act the same and say the same thing.

Japan's looking to break it's own record of 4 major environmental contamination triggered illnesses:

Anonymous said...

I read this article and say, WAKE UP PEOPLE... It takes the govenment 6 days before they believe you that something is wrong. I would have moved from the area the day of the accident out of fear alone! My prayers are with everyone one the planet that we will be ok..

Anonymous said...

I was grossed out formaldehyde is used for embalming the dead, enough said on that! Unless they are trying to cause a mass murder for easy escape before something BIGGER happens!?

a female Faust said...

if you have a moment: define "partying" (i sense a meaning other than that with which i am familiar)

a female Faust said...

to state the obvious:

"Welcome to Japan -- the developed country run by people with a developing country mentality."

i would reassess the dataset from whence this conclusion. or to put it more roundly, for this to be true, one must likewise ascribe a "developing country mentality" to the United States.

honestly. (perhaps i should not have said anything, but there you have it.)

arevamirpal::laprimavera said...

The officials were partying. Drinking and eating good food, having a good time.

Post a Comment