What the Earthquake left me

NISHIKAWA Yasuko


After spending several days at my parents home in Takarazuka after the earthquake, we came back to our house in Nishinomiya as my son's kindergarden was reopened at the end of January. What we had to face to then was the disposal of debris by burning it in open spaces. Many houses collapsed or were damaged by the earthquake in our city, and a huge amount of debris was left there. We live in the south-east part of Nishinomiya. Nishinomiya's desposal plant was within 2 km to the south-west, and Amagasaki's plant was within 3 km to the south-east from our house. Smoke covered the sky, and most days were cloudy.

@A friend of mine who knows environmental issues well advised me to move out to another area as soon as possible, and I finally realized how serious this situation was. I have allergies, and I usually have allergic coryza only in the early spring, but this year I also had an itch in my eyes. My children also had this type of itching and their eyes were bloodshot, as they rubbed their eyes. I talked with our neighbors and found out that we were not the only ones with this affliction. Many of those who had allergies were suffering from worse cases than usual this year.

@In mid-February, we temporarily moved to
Nagano Prefecture, which is in the countryside. There, we met people who lived with nature, by cultivating fields. Also, there were people who used to work in big cities but gave up their lives there to start farming in the country. We live in a city where we can buy almost anything by just spending money, but getting to know these people made us rethink our lives and values. We dreamed of living there. But we needed to earn some money to support our family of four. My husband worked in Ashiya. His office was damaged by the earthquake but not so much, and it reopened. We went back to Nishinomiya, although we felt as though we had left our hearts behind.

@In late February, my friend sent me a newspaper clipping, by which we@learnt that Takarazuka City was to stop disposal of debris by burning it in open spaces by the end of March. That decision was made as a result of a questionnaire survey on health conditions conducted by a self-governing body there. I thought it would be good if we could conduct this kind of survey in our area, too. I contacted the newspaper publishing company, and I immediately got a response and obtained a copy of the quetionnaire from the writer.

@I visited our self-governing body's office to consult with mothers in the neighborhood who have allergic children. Some of the staff are city officials and some were reluctant to carry out such a questionnaire survey to appeal to the City to stop burning debris in open spaces.

@Some said to us, Some quake-hit people are in much harder situations. Stop complaining about just some smoke." We, however, refused to back down and asked them to take up the matter with the board. It took more than one month. Meanwhile, the air was polluted more and more, and the symptoms of the suffering people got worse and worse. We were beginning to give up asking our self-governing body.

@In mid-March, a lawyer who knows a lot about environmental issues and several legal experts such as a professor at the law department of
Ritsumeikan University came to see the situation of the burning. I joined the party with neighboring friends and the friend who had sent me the newspaper article. The writer who wrote the article about Takarazuka's burning joined us, too, and led us to the actual burning site.

@I can never forget the scene which I saw there. The debris were not burnt on that day because it was Sunday. We saw, however, smoke coming out from here and there and the nasty stink was so powerful that we felt sick even though we were wearing dustproof masks. Our eyes were irritated by the smoke and we could not keep them open. The City had said that noninflammables and inflammables were divided. Debris were certainly divided roughly into scrap wood, concrete and the others. I found, however, a refrigerator among the scrap wood as well as an object which looked like a propane gas bottle. Another member saw a car. We wanted to think that they would not be so reckless as to burn those things. Smoke was, however, coming out from the end of the mountain which included them.

@One month later, our self-governing body decided against carrying out the health-related questionnaire. They decided instead that the association of self-governing bodies would call for the City to stop the burning at an early stage.

@In the end of March, a technical officer from the Engineering Department of Kobe University measured the amount of NO2 and dust in our housing-estate area. In mid-April, he held a meeting in our assembly hall to report the result. A doctor joined the meeting and we learned about the effect of air-pollution by such burning on our bodies. The meeting was broadcast on the TV news.

@Shortly after that,
Nishinomiya City announced that it would stop the burning in open spaces by the end of May.

@The burning in open spaces ended at the end of May. The City is continuing disposal of debris in a simplified incinerator. It has not released to residents information about its safety.

@I experienced harm caused by burning debris in open spaces and learnt a lot of things. I had not been interested much in refuse issues before. The debris, which caused air pollution when it was burnt, was the products of our own lives. We are using things in our daily lives with indifference which release harmful substances when disposed. I would not have noticed the danger if the earthquake had not occured. The earthquake left me with lots of things.



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