Polluted with PFOA

Data That Shouldn’t Exist [Kibichuo, Okayama Part 3]

2024.06.20 13:14 Nanami Nakagawa

Approximately 1,000 people in 520 households living in the Enjo district of Kibichuo Town, Okayama Prefecture, were using tap water that contained high levels of PFOA.

On October 17, 2023, the day after the announcement, Mayor Masanori Yamamoto and other town officials held an emergency information session, where they revealed to residents for the first time that they had been supplying PFOA-contaminated tap water for two years since 2021.

However, there was a serious lie in the town’s information session.

Parents raising children noticed this immediately.

A phrase that sounded familiar

Junko Abe, who lives in the Enjo district, attended the town’s public information session with her husband, Naoki.

The town said that water testing in 2022 had detected 1,400 ng/L of PFOA. It did not disclose the results for 2021, but when asked by residents “since when have we been drinking this water?” it said the levels had reached 1,200 ng/L.

The PFOA levels for both years were 24 to 28 times higher than the national target of 50 ng/L.

Junko knew how toxic PFOA is to the body even before the information session was held.

In late June 2023, she read Tansa’s article in the magazine “BIG ISSUE.” It was reported that contamination with the carcinogenic and developmentally toxic chemical “PFOA” was occurring in Osaka. At the time, she and Naoki talked about how “it would be scary if such chemical contamination were to occur.”

It was four months later that the town made public the PFOA contamination of its tap water.

“Were we drinking the same substance that caused the contamination in Osaka?”

Unable to concentrate on her work, Junko continued researching PFOA on the internet right up until the information session.

Liver cancer, kidney cancer, thyroid disease, developmental toxicity in children, high cholesterol… She learned that the adverse health effects have already been revealed in epidemiological studies in the United States and Europe.

However, at the information session, Mayor Yamamoto tried to calm the residents.

“There won’t be any immediate health effects.”

Junko thought, “It’s just like the nuclear power plant accident.”

Moving to Kibichuo Town after the nuclear power plant accident

Junko lives with her husband, Naoki, and their son, a 7th grade junior high school student. They run a clothing brand together from their home in the town. They also take care of their two dogs, goats, sheep, and ducks in the garden.

They moved from Tokyo to Kibichuo Town after the Great East Japan Earthquake in March 2011. They were concerned about the effect of the nuclear power plant accident on their two-month-old kid. Seeking safety and security, they decided to move to Kibichuo Town, which is rich in nature.

They began weeding and leveling the land they purchased while living in a leased house in town. Junko personally took part in the design of their home. She exclusively used building materials that were free of dangerous toxins. They utilized a composting toilet and set up a system to reuse sewage from the house in the yard. Their home and workplace were finished in 2016.

Seven years have passed since then. They have grown accustomed to life in Kibichuo Town; their son has grown into a junior high school student; and the detached house they built next to the main house was scheduled for completion in November 2023.

“I’m glad we moved to Kibichuo Town.”

The discovery of PFOA contamination came shortly thereafter.

Junko Abe (left) and Naoki Abe (photo by Nanami Nakagawa on February 26, 2024)

An email from Enjo Elementary School concealing the contamination

When Junko learned about the contamination of the tap water in the Enjo district, she wondered if a water purifier could remove PFOA. On October 17, she contacted her friend Saki Yonezawa (pseudonym), who lives in another area of ​​the town, and asked her if she knew of any good water purifiers. Saki had graduated from a science graduate school and had a basic knowledge of chemistry.

Saki was surprised to receive this message from Junko, as she had no idea about the contamination of the tap water.

The town only notified the residents of the Enjo district. They also did not inform residents in other areas of the town about the public information session. Saki felt suspicious about the town.

“If this is happening within the same town, why doesn’t the administration inform the entire town?”

The water contamination in the Enjo district was also a serious problem for Saki, who lived in another district.

Her daughter, who is in the upper grades, attends Enjo Elementary School, where school lunches are prepared with tap water. This means that her daughter has been eating lunches cooked with water polluted with high concentrations of PFOA.

Enjo Elementary School notified parents via email on the evening of October 16th that tap water would not be used for school lunches.

However, it was not stated that this was due to PFOA contamination. The email’s subject line was “Responses for tomorrow, the 17th,” making it seem as if the water would only be unusable for one day.

October 16, 2023 5:47 p.m.

Subject: Drinking water response for tomorrow, the 17th


As reported by Kibichuo Town, the tap water in the Enjo district is undrinkable.

At Enjo Elementary School, the school lunches are going to be prepared by Tsuga Elementary School and served to the students.

Please be assured that there will be enough water for children to drink and brush their teeth.

We apologize for the inconvenience, but we will do our best to resolve the issue.

As for faculty and staff, please bring your own beverages, etc.

Saki read this email and thought, “Maybe the pipes broke during construction, and that’s why the tap water stopped coming out,” because Enjo Elementary School is now being renovated. It never occurred to her that toxic substances might have been in the water.

It was a very irresponsible email.

On Japan Water Works Association website

Saki and her husband Daichi (pseudonym) decided to investigate the town’s tap water after learning from Junko about PFOA contamination in the Enjo district. Daichi also holds a graduate degree in science and they are both good at researching.

After reading articles about PFOA contamination, they discovered that the Japan Water Works Association (JWWA) has been publishing water quality data for the previous three years. The PFOA levels at water purification plants across the country have been posted on their website. They gathered the levels for Kibichuo Town from the data.

Saki emailed Junko the results of her research early on October 18. Junko, unable to concentrate on her work since learning about the contamination, has been researching PFOA on the internet.

After receiving Saki’s email, Junko checked the Japan Water Works Association’s website.

2022: 1,400 ng/L


2021: 1,200 ng/L

So far, this is what the town indicated at the information session last night. The town initially released only the value for 2022 and only revealed the value for 2021 when residents asked, “Since when have we been drinking this water?”

What surprised Junko was what came up next.

There was data for 2020.

At the information session, the town asserted that it had only measured PFOA levels in the past two years, and had not done so prior to 2020. Why is there data from 2020?

The website of the Japan Water Works Association might be wrong. Junko called the association.

The person on the phone said:

“This is data submitted by Kibichuo Town.”

To be continued.

(Originally published in Japanese on June 4, 2024. Translation by Mana Shibata.)

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