Support for Japan's Asbestos Victims 

by Laurie Kazan-Allen



Ever since the “Kubota Shock”1 first propelled the Japanese asbestos scandal onto the public consciousness in 2005, asbestos victims' groups have been lobbying for government benefits and compensation for all those who have been injured or bereaved by occupational, environmental or para-occupational exposures to asbestos. Schemes introduced in 2006 and 2008 did not provide coverage for many of those affected due to administrative deadlines and the imposition of strict procedural criteria.

As a result of protracted negotiations amongst victims, campaigners and all Japan's political parties, new rules are being brought into force by the end of this month (August 2011) to extend the relief network to include additional victims of occupational and non-occupational asbestos exposures. 2 Amendments to the 2006 and 2008 Asbestos Victims Relief Legislation are set to be adopted by the Lower House (House of Representatives) of the Japanese Diet on August 23; it is anticipated that the Upper House (House of Councilors) will sanction these changes on August 26 as a result of which many of those who had previously been excluded will now be able to qualify for support. Significant changes being introduced include:

Occupational exposures: The original five year statute of limitations for filing an application for workers' compensation benefits on behalf of a dead family member was replaced with more lenient procedures in 2006 and 2008; the 2011 amendment will allow claims to be submitted until March 26, 2022 for asbestos deaths which occurred before March 27, 2016.

Non-occupational exposures: As of 2006, qualifying asbestos victims were entitled to receive relief benefits of $1,357 per month (plus medical expenses); $2,600 of funeral expenses were allocated to the bereaved family. For family members whose relatives died from asbestos diseases before the 2006 scheme, bureaucratic provisions were enacted to extend the submission of claim deadline until 2009.2 Under the 2008 amendment law, this was extended to 2012 and under the 2011 amendment to 2022.

Under the 2006 law, if a claim had not been submitted prior to a victim's death, all further claims were barred. In 2008 this was reversed and family members were allowed five years to make a claim for relief benefit of just under three million yen ($39,192). Under the new law, they will have up to 15 years to make a claim for an asbestos-related death.

In the ten years before Japan – one of the world's biggest users of asbestos – implemented a unilateral ban, national consumption totaled 657,530 tonnes, an average of 65,753 tonnes per year. Even though these levels were a significant decrease on peak Japanese asbestos consumption – almost 400,000 tonnes per year during the 1980s – there is no question that the levels of hazardous exposure experienced by Japanese citizens were colossal. A decision on a case brought on behalf of asbestos victims from Sennan, the “birthplace of Japan's asbestos industry,” is imminent. 3 Although the Osaka District Court found in May 2010 that the central government had failed “to provide people with the appropriate information concerning asbestos and the health risks linked to it,” this ruling was appealed. The Appeal Court verdict is expected on Friday, August 26.

August 23, 2011


1 Kazan-Allen L. Killing the Future – Asbestos Use in Asia. 2007. p 18.

2 Government compensation to a bereaved family of an asbestos victim who died from non-occupational exposure is set at $39,192.

3 Kazan-Allen L. Japan – Good News, Bad News. June 3, 2010.



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