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Tap Water Scare in Japan

by Sheela Philomena on March 26, 2011 at 10:31 AM
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 Tap Water Scare in Japan

Japan radiation scare spreads to tap water. Parents in Japan are really frightened by the tap water scare and are opting for bottled water from Tokyo's Bunkyo ward. Officials said Wednesday that the water was unsafe for babies, fuelling public safety fears and prompting the government to organise the distribution of bottled water to households with infants. But Hara says that is not enough.

Hara, 39, is one of many in the Japanese capital who are unnerved by the news that traces of radioactive iodine-131 have been found in Tokyo's drinking water, after the disaster at a quake-hit nuclear power plant to the northeast.

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"I don't know how to deal with this. When television started reporting the news about water, they had no analysis from experts," Hara told AFP as she picked up her allotment of three 550-millilitre (18.5-ounce) bottles.

"It was very, very scary.

"My family is worried. My husband and my mother-in-law have told me to drink bottled water and avoid tap water. So I am trying to do that to the extent I can," said Hara, who said she is breast-feeding her daughter.
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"As the news developed, experts began to say there was no need to panic. So that eased my worries a little bit. But when you see people buying bottled water at stores and emptying store shelves, that makes you worry again."

On Wednesday, the Tokyo city government said one water sample contained 210 becquerels of iodine-131 per kilogramme -- more than double the legal limit for infants -- but the level fell back to 79 in a test Thursday.

The upper limits are 100 becquerels for infants and 300 for adults.

Other towns in Chiba and Ibaraki prefectures near Tokyo have also advised consumers not to drink tap water until further tests are carried out.

The iodine-131 -- which has a half-life of eight days -- entered the water supply after a series of explosions at the Fukushima plant, 250 kilometres (155 miles) northeast of Tokyo, sent radioactive material leaking into the air.

Japanese television networks ran hours of programming on Thursday to answer parents' questions on everything from whether the tainted water can be used to bathe children to whether they can use it to do laundry.

But environmental watchdog Greenpeace charged that the government was not doing enough to inform customers.

"The authorities may be trying to be brave about the current crisis by trying to avoid causing panic, but are they risking people's health in the process?" Greenpeace energy campaigner Rianne Teule said in a statement.

A 27-year-old mother at the Bunkyo ward office with her five-month-old son said her friends and relatives were giving their children bottled juice for now to avoid consuming tap water. She is not sure what to believe.

"We just don't know what we should worry about and what we shouldn't worry about," the woman, who asked not to be identified, told AFP.

"Many experts seem to say there is no need to worry too much. But I have also seen experts saying you should avoid drinking water if you can. It is all confusing. I tend to assume the worst-case scenario and take precautions."

Public fears are not limited to Tokyo.

Miho Hatakeyama is a mother of two who left her home in the Japanese capital after the March 11 earthquake, tsunami and nuclear emergency to live temporarily in the western city of Osaka, 400 kilometres from the capital.

"We're getting information via radio and TV. People say it's OK, but when it comes to the health of my children, I feel very worried," she said.

Officials at Suntory and Asahi Breweries, which both make bottled water, say production is moving full steam ahead to meet rising demand.

"We have received many orders since the quake. We are producing mineral water at full capacity," Suntory spokeswoman Yukari Miyazaki told AFP.

In Tokyo, Hara says she stockpiled four boxes of water bottles even before the quake as a standard emergency precaution. Little did she know how useful they would be.

"I don't want to panic. I will use bottled water for now. If we run out, I will use tap water. Experts say it's OK," she said.

"There are so many worrying things. But you cannot worry about everything. I just hope that the whole thing will calm down soon and our normal life will return."

Source: AFP
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