Japan: Cause and Effect 

by Laurie Kazan-Allen



Since 2005, Japan has been reeling under the effects of the “Kubota Shock,”1 the term commonly used to refer to the country's awakening to an epidemic of asbestos-related diseases. Although the fallout from environmental pollution by asbestos-consuming factories has been established in many locales, it seems that the situation could be even worse then previously thought. According to research published by the Environment Ministry on June 4, 2008, about 18% (145) of 804 people living near asbestos-using factories in Yokohama, Hashima, Nara, Osaka, Amagasaki City, Tosu and Saga have pleural plaques, an asymptomatic condition2 which is usually regarded as a marker of asbestos exposure.3 Health campaigner Sugio Furuya, from the Tokyo-based Japan Occupational Safety and Health Resource Center, is calling on the government to set up a health management system to ensure that all those affected receive free medical treatment.

Confirming the results of the government's research was a paper, Mapping the risk of mesothelioma due to neighborhood asbestos exposure, by Drs. Norio Kurumatani and Shinji Kumagai, which was published in the American Journal of Respiratory and Critical Care Medicine on June 12, 2008; the authors concluded that:

“A dose-response relation was observed between the risk of mesothelioma and relative asbestsos concentrations which involved meteorological conditions. The area with a significantly increased risk reached 2,200 meters from an emission point of asbestos…Neighborhood exposure to asbestos can pose a serious risk to residents across a wide area.4

As elsewhere, construction workers in Japan have contracted asbestos-related diseases from occupational exposure. Some of these workers are among the 170+ people who initiated a 6.6 billion yen ($64m) class action in May 2008 against the state and 46 manufacturers of contaminated construction products in the Tokyo District Court. This is the first collective suit brought by Japanese construction workers and includes plaintiffs from Tokyo, Chiba and Saitama prefectures who are alleging that the state and corporations failed to protect human health from the known hazards of asbestos exposure.5 It is alleged that as a consequence of this negligence, 172 people contracted mesothelioma or lung cancer. In a press statement released by lawyers representing the plaintiffs, they said: “We seek complete relief for the victims by clarifying the liability of the state and the manufacturers.” Seventy-eight year old Kazuo Miyajima, head of the plaintiffs, expressed the unanimous determination of all the victims to win the lawsuit.6

June 25, 2008


1 See: Killing the Future; pages 18-20.

2 Depending on their severity and location, pleural plaques can, in some instances, produce symptoms.

3 18% near asbestos found sick/ Residents near factories handling substance have signs of cancer. Yomiuri Shimbun. June 5, 2008. http://www.yomiuri.co.jp/dy/national/20080605TDY02306

4 http://intl-ajrccm.atsjournals.org/articlesinpress.shtml

5 Asbestos victims file suit against state, manufacturers. May 16, 2008
Also included in this lawsuit are the relatives of deceased workers.

6 Asbestos victims file 6.6 billion yen class action lawsuit in Tokyo. May 17, 2008.



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