Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Taiji, Japan Councilman Opposes Mercury in School Lunches

Nov 1, 2007

by Hardy Jones

If you want a hero, I’ve got one for you. My colleague, Sakae Hemmi of Elsa Nature Conservancy, and I interviewed this humble but extraordinary man for two hours yesterday - a man who has virtually written off his political career by simply pointing out that the local school district was feeding mercury-laden dolphin meat to school children.

Taiji is the last holdout among villages regularly hunting dolphins off the Japanese main island. Its people do not want their dirty laundry aired outside of Taiji. It’s understandable – there’s plenty of filth. But Mr. Junichiro Yamashita, an Assemblyman in Taiji, Wakayama Prefecture, is the first official to come out and take a stand against the utterly idiotic practice of poisoning school children in their formative years with methyl mercury at a time when they are most susceptible to learning disability and neurological problems.

He called the meat served to the students exactly what it is - “toxic waste” - and that is not exaggeration. He has had pilot whale meat obtained in Taiji tested for mercury and PCBs and found the levels shockingly high.

He has had the courage to go before the international press and tell this sordid story of dolphin hunters trying to create a new market for their contaminated goods. And he has his own blog, written in Japanese. The local people hate this.

Mr. Yamashita was told he would not win reelection if he spoke of the dolphin issue. He and his wife have been socially ostracized. She is very disappointed about this but totally supports her husband’s work.

Yamashita-san is a formidable man. He has a huge collection of data on toxic chemicals in the marine environment and how it affects human beings. He uses the internet with great facility over ADSL. This is not the last we will hear from this highly intelligent and dedicated man.

What he has done is put the community’s interests ahead of his own. He has gone out of his way to make things better – something politicians, something all of us could practice more.

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