Sunday, 20 May 2012

STRANGE CASE OF DR. JEKYLL AND FORMALDEHYDE


Live in Japan long enough and you become immune to the cacophony of loudspeakers.
If it's not the old fellow hawking tofu around the neighbourhood, a woman screaming at the disenfranchised Our Man to vote Ta-ka-hashi vote Ta-ka-hashi, then it's a warning to look out for one of several dozen senile elderly who escape their handlers every other day, but invariably find their way back the old folks' home, coincidentally right next door to City Hall, in time for tea.
So it was that Our Man thought nothing of the loudspeaker van cutting through the hinterlands around his bunker at lunchtime Saturday repeating a brief, urgent announcement not to drink the water. For health reasons, don't drink the water. In fact, they were cutting the water supply to all homes in the area from 1:30 p.m.
It was 12:15 p.m.
They hadn't said anything about not using the water for cooking. Which Our Man decided to take as tacit approval since he'd just that moment finished cooking a pot of pasta for lunch. It would have been possible to find something else to eat for health reasons -- the five-teaspoon dose of pesto had yet to be administered after all -- but, really who cared? Like all the other garbled warnings from passing vans, they never had anything to do with Our Man.
But Our Woman wasn't so sure. After a phone call and extensive research, she had an explanation.
"It's got a really long, complicated name. It's the same stuff they put in little packets in our food to keep it from going off. But it gives you cancer."
"Perhaps they shouldn't put it in our food."
"They didn't. They put it in the Tonegawa."
The Tonegawa is Japan's longest river. It forms the northern boundary of Abiko. And apparently we drink its water. Or rather, we did until today.
"Who put it in the river?"
"I don't know."
"Somebody must."
"I don't."
"Is it safe to brush our teeth? To have a bath? To wash clothes?"
"I don't know."
"How long will they shut the water off?"
"They don't know."

Of course Our Man had been here before. We all had, all of us who were around on March 11th, 2011, when the big one hit, the shelves ran empty and the lights went out all over 7-Eleven. Our Woman knew exactly what to do.
She had already rustled up two four-litre water camping canteens and was busy filling the bath before Our Man had tasted his bowl of noodles. Our Man did have time to wonder at the point of all the excess water storage capacity. If the damn stuff was too toxic to drink, maybe we shouldn't be bathing the kids in it either. Could you wash the car with it? That would probably be OK.
Our Woman read Our Man's mind. "You can use it to flush the toilet. But we'll need water from the shops to drink."
"I'll put my shoes on."
He was out the house before you could Google translate "formaldehyde."
When he returned 15 minutes later, every vaguely three-dimensional object in the house was full of the potentially deadly, but flushable water.


They didn't have any drinkable water left in the shops, but Our Man did make it back with a case of green tea, a six-pack of beer and a bottle of red wine. Well, Our Man wasn't going to die of formaldehyde poisoning. Or green tea poisoning. Not today anyway, the all clear was sounded at 9:30 p.m.


4 comments:

yashmatunited said...

What happens to a company who illegally dumps chemicals into the water supply in Japan? I wonder how the scientists would be able to find the entry point or determine how much got released into the river.

Our Man in Abiko said...

The cynic in Our Man would say everything will be denied as long as possible until guilt becomes unquestionable, then the firm responsible will apologise profusely, possibly with tears and a couple of early retirements, and will be slapped with a symbolic fine.

But Our Man could be wrong. He often is.

Simon said...

Hi, a near neighbour here (Ibaraki), with a follow up.

You probably have heard, the company was Dowa Hightech Co. who emplyed a waste disposal company which released it in the river. Seems like the substance is not exactly illegal and they have done so before.

http://www.yomiuri.co.jp/dy/national/T120525005102.htm

Our Man in Abiko said...

Thanks for that Simon. Had to decode the Yomiuriese to figure it out. Glad to see the authorities are on top of it.