Bags of leaf soil contaminated with highly radioactive cesium have been shipped and sold throughout the country for more than a month after the central government failed to detect the contamination and take preventative measures fast enough.
Leaf soil produced in Kanuma, Tochigi Prefecture, has been found to contain highly radioactive cesium. Some of the leaf soil contained fallen leaves from a resort area in Nasu, Tochigi Prefecture, about 100 kilometers from the Fukushima No. 1 Nuclear Power Plant. Bags of leaf soil were shipped and sold mainly at do-it-yourself stores across the country after the government did not set the allowable limit of cesium in leaf soil or did not give instructions to soil producers promptly.
The radioactive contamination was brought to light after someone posted video footage on YouTube on June 24. The video, which shows a radiation counter beeping when put on a bag of leaf soil at a do-it-yourself store, has so far amassed about 100,000 views. The Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries announced the allowable limit for cesium on Aug. 2 — eight days after it released information on the radioactive contamination in leaf soil.
On July 25, about a month after the video was posted on YouTube, the Akita Prefectural Government announced that it had detected 11,000 becquerells of cesium in leaf soil per 1 kilogram at a do-it-yourself store in Akita. On July 27, the Tottori Prefectural Government said it had detected 14,800 becquerells of cesium in leaf soil per 1 kilogram at a do-it-yourself store in Tottori. They were produced by different leaf-soil makers but both of them are based in Kanuma. There are about 60 producers of soil for gardening and fertilizer in Kanuma, which is known for its high-quality “Kanuma soil.” The leaf-soil producers talked about the video on YouTube from the beginning. One of the producers said, “We were in great fear because fallen leaves collected after the quake disaster were about to be shipped to shops. But we went ahead and shipped them because there were no instructions from the government.”
Immediately after the cesium contamination was brought to light, 72,000 becquerells of cesium were detected in fallen leaves in the northern part of Tochigi Prefecture. The president of a fertilizer company which shipped leaf soil to a do-it-yourself store chain said, “I went pale … We have caused great damage to the horticulture industry. If we had known the leaves were dangerous, we could have been more careful.” The company mixed the fallen leaves collected after the quake disaster with other leaves procured earlier, and therefore it had to stop producing leaf soil completely.
A gardening company in Otawara, Tochigi Prefecture, which was collecting fallen leaves at the request of the fertilizer company angrily said, “We cannot pay salaries to our employees because we cannot receive money for the fallen leaves we delivered. Who will compensate us for that?” The company collects fallen leaves in resort areas in Nasushiobara and Nasu in northern Tochigi Prefecture from autumn to summer each year. Fertilizer companies then buy the fallen leaves and mix them with foreign bark and the like and ship them as leaf mold.
According to the Japan DIY Association, sales of gardening goods such as leaf soil have been steadily rising in recent years as gardening becomes popular. That’s why the impact of the radioactive contamination has been spreading through the industry and consumers.
When the first case of contamination was announced on July 25, the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries told prefectural governments to restrain the use, distribution and production of leaf soil made in 17 prefectures from Tohoku to Tokai regions. Then, Cainz Home, a major do-it-yourself chain, removed 179 kinds of gardening goods such as leaf soil and incubated soil from the shelves at its stores across the country. People in the industry complained that the government should have set safety standards much earlier.
Some of the radioactive cesium contained in soil can be absorbed by agricultural crops. Some shops have been recalling leaf soil. People who bought the product have been calling shops to ask whether it was safe to use it for their vegetable gardens and the like. “Even with leaf soil contaminated with the levels of radiation detected so far, it is hard to imagine that cesium in agricultural crops will exceed the allowable limit of radiation,” said a farm ministry official.