A Local Perspective on Life in Tsukuba, Ibaraki, Japan.

Exposure to Asbestos and Harmful Mold in Tsukuba`s Earthquake Cracked Old Houses Might Pose a More Serious Health Threat Around Here Than the Radiation

A cracked bathroom wall might be releasing asbestos or harmfull mold into damaged houses

By Avi Landau


Despite the fact that we are assurred repeatedly by government officials and various experts who tell us that it is PERFECTLY SAFE, the fact that radiation is being released into the air about 180 kilometers away, has many of us here in Tsukuba in a state of unease. This feeling especially comes to the fore under certain conditions or at certain moments- when we realize the wind is blowing in from the north, when it is raining ( and especially when these happen at the same time!), when we sit down at a restaurant and the waiter puts the glasses of water down on the table ( is it radiated tap water?), or when spinach is included somewhere in a dish we`ve been served.

So even if there is no real danger from the radiation itself, the continuous stress IS taking its toll. I cant help but notice all the baggy eyes, haggard looks, and new gray hairs on people around town.

A crack in the wall outside the kitchen let some mice into the house

I dont want to add to everyones worries, but the fact is that some people in this area, specifically those living in old houses, apartments or dormitories ( and there are plenty of THOSE here in Tsukuba) are now very likely being exposed to some things BESIDES radiation that pose  very serious long term health threats- especially to young children. I am talking about ASBESTOS as well as certain harmfull types of MOLD which have been released into living spaces through holes and cracks in walls, ceilings and floors, created by the earthquake of March 11th.

Asbestos, which is known to be a cause of cancer when particles of it are inhaled, was commonly used for construction in Japan, and MANY of Tsukuba`s older structures probably contain the deadly substance in the walls, under floors, under the eaves, etc.

Also, the amazon-basin like conditions of the Japanese summer are perfect for all sorts of mold to thrive in. And though we can deal with the mold that we can SEE ( though sometimes with great difficulty), it is almost impossible to get rid of it if   it starts growing in those same normally behind the scene areas where asbestos can be found.

A moldy stain which appeared on the wall after a leak in the roof

Since the house that I live in here in Tsukuba was built in the Golden Age of Japanese asbestos use ( the 1970s),and also because it was severely cracked, both on the inside and outside, during the earthquake ( and subsequent aftershocks), I became immediately concerned about exposure to these dangerous substances ( especially with two small kids). My friends concurred with my insticts and recommended that I leave the house immediately.

After sending my family off to Tokyo ( and then New York), I stubbornly stayed on in the old place ( filled with so many memories), and was determined to find out whether in fact asbestos was used to build the house or not.

I figured that the best thing to do would be to go to the city office. I was surprised, however,  to find out there that city governments are NOT responsible for, and do not deal with asbestos.

And despite the fact that the staff of the Building Construction Division were patient, sympathetic, they could do nothing for me except provide a list of companies which provide asbestos detection services.

Mold and rot which formed under a bedroom windowsill

Calling the first companies on the list, I found that they would not deal with individual customers ( only the government or other companies).

I finally did find one which could help me- but they told me that checking ONE ROOM in my house would cost me about 60,000 Yen! This would involve an instrument being brought to the house and left in on of the rooms for a few hours. The instrument would then be picked up and taked best for analysis.

Look carefully! You can see all the way to the outside through a crack between the wall and the floor

Since I am not currently in the financial position to ask for this costly asbestos check ( after all the earthquake damage and subsequent work stoppage), I have had to WAIT on finding out whether or not there really is any asbestos behind my walls ( about mold, there is no question- note the photos I have posted!).

What I did instead, was ask my landlord. She said- “Asbestos was not used to build the house- I THINK”. And for me, that I THINK has continued to ring in my ears.

I havent left yet. In fact, Im writing this post right here on the living room floor ( Im gazing now in disbelief at the piles of hail which has just fallen in a short but furious April 29th storm!).

Now I cant be sure if its psychological or not, but for the past few weeks Ive had the strangest feeling in my lungs and just cant stop coughing………………… and worrying!

One more reason to wear a surgical mask !

For more on asbestos and its effects on our health see:


Fallen camellia blossoms lie among the hailstones (April 30 2011- Tsukuba)

The next morning garden in Tsukuba was still strew with ice balls from the hailstorm


( If you are interested, here is an album of original music recorded ( by Xenophonia) in the tatami room at my old house in Tsukuba:

http://www.jamendo.com/en/album/2425 )

One Comment