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Ex-market head thought high-floored buildings would be built above soil base at Toyosu

Senior officials at the Tokyo Metropolitan Government initially believed that the new Toyosu fish market site would have high-floored buildings built above a soil base, and were apparently unaware of a plan to forgo the base, which was designed to seal off toxic substances, it has been learned.

Itaru Okada, who served as head of the Tokyo Metropolitan Central Wholesale Market between July 2009 and July 2011, made the testimony to the Mainichi Shimbun in connection with the stalled relocation of the Tsukiji fish market in Tokyo's Chuo Ward to the new market site in the Toyosu waterfront area in Koto Ward.

A panel of outside experts had recommended in July 2008 that a 4.5-meter-deep soil base be laid under the Toyosu market site to help block toxic substances from coming up to the surface. However, it has recently emerged that the soil base plan was subsequently altered sometime between July 2009 and July 2010, resulting in the lack of a soil base below the main buildings at the Toyosu site.

Okada said a metropolitan government official who was in charge of the project at the time never explained to him about the change to the soil base plan. His testimony suggests that information about the pollution countermeasures -- a linchpin of the Toyosu market development project -- had not been shared among metropolitan government officials back then.

According to Okada, when he took office as market chief in July 2009, he was briefed about a plan to build the main structures with their first floor elevated above the ground level by about 1 meter after laying a soil base underground. Okada explained to industry insiders that the method would keep the structures hygienic and make it easier to control the temperatures inside the buildings as they would be detached from the ground.

In March 2011, a metropolitan government official in charge of the wholesale market produced a written directive outlining the construction method and other conditions to contractors undertaking soil pollution countermeasures. In June that year, the official prepared a document containing specifications that further elaborated on the construction method. The document indicated the presence of a hollow space below the main buildings, and Okada approved the plan without noticing the lack of a soil base. He says that he wasn't specifically told by the official in charge that they were going to forgo the soil base.

"I had thought there would be a soil base, above which high-floored buildings would be built," Okada said. He and four other former market chiefs who served since July 2007 were quoted as saying they had been unaware of the presence of an empty space underneath key buildings.

The now completed buildings for wholesalers and middle traders of marine products at the Toyosu site both have their first floors built about 1 meter above the ground, with an empty space underground. The building for fresh produce, meanwhile, does not have raised floors.

In a related development, it has emerged that a member of a technical expert meeting had raised a question about the gap between the amount of contaminated soil removed and that of the clean soil added in place during a November 2014 meeting where the completion of work on soil pollution countermeasures was reported. The member was quoted as asking at the time, "Isn't the amount of backfill soil smaller than the amount of soil removed?"

A metropolitan government official in charge obliquely hinted at the lack of a soil base below the buildings by citing a technical term which meant soil for the building site had been dug to a depth of 2 meters underground, and then saying that the remaining areas had a soil base.

The expert panel member who raised the question looked convinced, saying, "To sum it up, a 4.5-meter-deep clean soil base has been laid, right?" -- apparently without noticing the lack of a soil base underneath the key structures. The discussion over the issue went no further than that point.

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