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As a Liaison: People's Association on Countermeasures of Dioxin and Endocrine Disrupters -- Yuko Nakashita

As a Liaison


Born in Osaka City, Osaka Prefecture, in 1953: Lawyer.

She mainly deals with problems of comfort women, sexual discrimination in wages, and endocrine disrupters. She is Director General of the People's Association on Countermeasures of Dioxin & Endocrine Disrupters.

She is a co-author of "Recapture Our "Stolen" Future: Countermeasures against Toxic Chemical Substances—Š Proposal from an NGO" (Rim New-Publishing Co., Ltd.), "Sexual Harassment" (Yuhikaku Publishing Co., Ltd.) and "Toward Correction of the Wage Gaps between Men and Women" (Iwanami Publishing, Co., Ltd.) among others.

Though the crisis of environmental pollution has been looming for a long time, the situation seems not to have improved. Experts in various fields of study are still trying hard to investigate and understand what are harming the human body, the ecosystem, and the earth environment and how those agents work. Administration guidelines are not explicit enough for citizens and the general public wonders how to protect their own lives in the face of mounting worries.

The People's Association on Countermeasures of Dioxin and Endocrine Disrupters was born in the search for risk management to counter environmental pollution. This non-governmental organization, which started from a workshop of women lawyers who were interested in environmental pollution, has come to play a role as a bridge between the administration and citizens, with the participation of citizens and experts from various fields of study who share much concern about environmental issues.

Nature Interface interviewed Yuko Nakashita about details of the NGO establishment, activities this NGO has done, and future prospects.

The Shock of "Our Stolen Future"

"One day, we read "Our Stolen Future" by Theo Colborn, Dianne Dumanoski et al. at a workshop of women lawyers; this was the very beginning of establishment of the People's Association. This book made our flesh crawl." This workshop triggered the foundation of the People's Association on Countermeasures of Dioxin and Endocrine Disrupters on Sept. 17, 1998. "Our Stolen Future" is a masterpiece depicting how synthesized chemical substances such as dioxins and polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) have been spread in large quantities through food additives, fertilizers, medicines, wastes, and sometimes, even chemical munitions. This book also describes how such substances have harmed global ecosystems as well as human bodies along with the rapid change of the earth environment in the 20th century, when science developed dramatically. "Our Stolen Future" reports on animals that became unable to bring up their children or human sperm, whose number has decreased as a result of absorbed chemical substances. Warnings not only to beings of the present, but also to our descendants of the future are written based on scientific data and observations.

Can we just sit on our hands in the face of such reports? We realize that the number of children suffering from atopic dermatitis or allergies, or that of women suffering from diseases that harm reproduction, such as cancers of the breast, womb, or prostate, or endometriosis, are increasing. Endocrine disrupters (EDs) are thought to be one contributing factor in all these diseases. We can't wait until whole causality is revealed scientifically. There have been more serious problems than we can count in which chemical substances caused environmental destruction and harmed the human body and ecosystem, such as Minamata disease, a disease caused by mercury poisoning, and the AIDS-tainted blood scandal. In all of those cases, countermeasures were taken only when it was too late. It is true that we could just lament those errors when confronted with those tragedies. If the danger had been noticed early and addressed to the administration, and countermeasures had been taken immediately, the damage would have reduced. If we do nothing now, it will be too late again —†such a sense of crisis encouraged the 158 women lawyers to gather.

Participation of Academic Members and Citizens

What they did was to ask experts from different fields of study for cooperation. They thought that they, all of whom were lawyers, could accomplish nothing by themselves alone. Scientific knowledge is necessary to investigate chemical particles that are alleged to be pollutants. Meanwhile, environmental issues involve problems of the social system and are concerned with individual value systems. Naturally, interdisciplinary cooperation with experts such as economists, philosophers, authors, and doctors is required. The lady lawyers asked experts of various fields for help; as a consequence, 50 people approved the agenda and became promoters of the NGO. Moreover, general citizens interested in dioxin and ED issues have taken part in the NGO. Now, the People's Association has 1400 members.

The People's Association has exerted the wisdom of interdisciplinary members and citizens. The administration has made regulations only after victims are reported. This NGO has tried hard to promote citizens, the sovereign, to consider necessary policies before people are harmed. For example, though a chemical substance is investigated to some extent before going to the market, regulations are made only after harmful effects on people are realized, which is long after the chemical substance is commercialized. This structure hasn't changed for a long time. Thus, the People's Association has appealed to government to consider policies based on precautionary principles. Meanwhile, Japan's countermeasures against dioxin pollution have lagged behind world standards. Based on substantial data and opinions of citizens and experts, the People's Association proposed concrete countermeasures and did not simply object to the administrative neglect.

Four Proposals of Concrete Policies

*The First Proposal for Urgent Countermeasures against Dioxin

This was the first proposal suggested to the government in Feb. 1999, the second year after establishment of the People's Association. Besides complaining about the present status of dioxin pollution in Japan, the NGO required legislation of a special regulation as an emergent measure. Moreover, the People's Association proposed an overhaul of the organization to realize the legislation: The NGO required establishment of an emergency headquarters under direct control of the prime minister and creation of a system that abolishes bureaucratic sectionalism and enables synthetic investigation along with citizens. At the same time, the People's Association proposed reduction of the daily intake tolerance of dioxin, which had been 10 picograms, to 1 picogram, as well as settlement of dioxin laws that would become a framework for countermeasures such as laws for prevention of soil and underwater pollution and their purification.

*The Second Proposal

Based on the accumulated data, the People's Association reported how dioxins and EDs actually harm people. Moreover, the NGO suggested countermeasures against pollution of the mothers' bodies and breast milk, which are seriously affected by these chemicals, and against food pollution. The People's Association also proposed a system where breast milk can be examined at a low price and mothers can go through counseling after examination results are clarified. Furthermore, the NGO suggested necessity of a dietary guidance system based on a report that dietary restrictions reduced dioxin concentration in breast milk in German residents.

*The Third Proposal

This is a proposition regarding materials and agrichemicals. The People's Association suggested the necessity of regulations not only for pollutant concentration in exhausts of incinerators or drains, but also usage and production of pollutants in the production stage. Though the number of products without polyvinyl chloride increased and alternatives are used thanks to consumer movements, the NGO demanded legislation of polyvinyl chloride prohibition.

*The Fourth Proposal

One initiative concerned legislation of basic laws for a recycling society. The People's Association pointed out the inadequacy of the Electric Appliance Recycling Law, which is limited to recycling of refrigerators, air conditioners, and televisions. The NGO proposed increasing the charge to producers, that is, letting producers include recycle charges in the production cost.

Further Possibilities of the People's Association

According to Ms. Nakashita, the first proposal had passable results among these four proposals for urgent countermeasures against dioxin. A council of related cabinets was established and the government was moved toward reinforcement of countermeasures against dioxin. Though the tolerance daily intake of dioxin has not reached 1 picogram yet, it was lowered to 4 picograms. Conglomerate, comprehensive laws for dioxin pollution were also legislated, though there are many defects left. Moreover, the precision of pollution investigation has become managed and a law related to soil and underwater pollution has been studied. The People's Association also came to take part in the Study Group on Regulation of Chemical Substance Investigation Related to the Ecosystem Conservation.

Ms. Nakashita says, "As a result of our effort to propose policies to the government in cooperation among experts and citizens, the voice of citizens came to be heard by the government, which had never accepted people's opinions. We want to play a role of making social consensus, which can be attained neither by government nor by citizens only. The possibilities for the People's Association, which has an important role as a connector, will expand further. Furthermore, Ms. Nakashita wants to demonstrate, in the framework of ecosystem conservation, that the beautiful nature that we see is threatened by unseen contamination by chemical substances. She wants to attain this in cooperation with workers of nature protection, whose activities in NGOs are required in this age. Confronted with a natural environment that is polluted and devastated, we must reconsider our society led by science. NGOs will play an important role in creating a new society: They can develop a harmonious society from their transparent and fair viewpoints.

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