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Legal News about Asbestos from Japan

A Japanese district court has ruled that the government was negligent in taking precautions to protect workers, and must compensate victims of asbestos-related diseases.

The Osaka District Court has ordered the Japanese government to pay 430 million yen, or $4.6 million, to 29 plaintiffs suffering from asbestosis and asbestos-related cancer. The ruling is the first to hold the central government responsible for asbestos-related diseases, charging that the state should have taken stronger precautions to protect workers. Presiding Judge Yoshihiro Konishi said the state was aware of the health risk before 1960, when it enacted a law to protect workers from lung disease and was negligent by not requiring private industry to take steps to safeguard workers health.

Japan has lagged significantly behind the developed world in addressing its asbestos issues. The growing problem of asbestos-related diseases was largely ignored until 2005, when farm machinery maker Kubota Corporation admitted that since 1978, 79 of its workers had died from asbestos-related diseases.

Asbestos imports into Japan peaked in 1974 with 352,316 tons brought into the country. It is estimated that well over 6,060 Japanese have died of mesothelioma, an asbestos-related cancer, from 1995 to 2003. Yet a recent article published by researchers at the Department of Respiratory Medicine, Okayama Rosai Hospital points out only about 10% of malignant mesothelioma cases are actually claimed and compensated.

In 2005, the head of an Environment Ministry panel studying the asbestos issue resigned after disclosing that he previously had served as an adviser to the Japan Asbestos Association. In 1972, the government required all factories dealing with asbestos to be equipped with exhausters, but did not fully ban asbestos, including its production and import, until 2004.

We applaud the Osaka district court’s decision. This is just the first step in ensuring justice for the Japanese victims of asbestos-related disease.

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