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    Spa explosion

    Yes, to those who’ve asked, the spa that exploded Tuesday was in my area of Tokyo. That is, it wasn’t in my neighborhood, but it was in Shibuya Ward (not far from my old apartment, actually). The spa draws in water from natural underground hot springs and also has the usual array of massage and relaxation therapies. It’s a women-only place, and three people killed in the methane explosion–lots of hot springs give off methane and other noxious gases–were all women employees.

    Predictably, the game of Responsibility Hot Potato has begun:

    Top officials of Unimat Beauty and Spa Inc., the company that manages Shiespa, denied responsibility for the explosion at a press conference held Tuesday night. “We charge an external company with safety management. The company has the relevant qualifications,” company President Harumi Miyata said.

    Shiespa’s manager Yumiko Kimura stressed the firm’s maintenance was not defective. “We never conceived that the facility would explode,” said Kimura.

    Hitachi Building Systems Co. in Chiyoda Ward, Tokyo, maintains the facility’s water-related areas. A company spokesman said: “We’re not in charge of checking the equipment that separates the gas from the spring water, or the pump that brings the water up. Even if methane gas was the reason for the explosion, our operation has no connection [with the accident].”

    Speaking at a press conference Wednesday, Katsuo Sangu, president of Sangu Co., which conducts several maintenance checkup procedures at the facility, stressed their operations were unconnected to the explosion. “Our contract doesn’t include checking the density of methane gas,” he said.

    A spokesman of Taisei Corp., which designed and constructed the facility, said, “We can’t answer questions about responsibility because we haven’t yet collected enough information.”

    Part of the problem is a lack of legal oversight:

    Prefectural governments have almost no regulations in place to prevent gas explosions at hot springs or spas.

    The popularity of spa facilities that combine hot springs and saunas with relaxation rooms and beauty salons has soared in recent years. However, drilled hot-spring sources at these facilities bring the risk of explosions and fires caused by natural gases, such as methane.

    It’s looking like a real possibility that everyone followed the rules but that there just weren’t any rules governing ventilation and monitoring of methane. At the same time, however much faith it had in the firms it contracted maintenance work out to, the management company is ultimately responsible for the safety and comfort of its clients. It doesn’t speak well of the Unimat officials quoted that they’re so eager to avoid responsibility.

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