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Post-Earthquake Demolition in Japan Poses Asbestos Exposure Risk

building destroyed by earthquakeThe Great East Japan Earthquake that struck the Sanriku Coast and the surrounding areas in March 2011 killed nearly 16,000 individuals and endangered the nuclear power plant located in the Fukushima Prefecture, according to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Japan. Subsequently, various buildings affected by the earthquake required demolition.

Those of us at Kazan, McClain, Lyons, Greenwood and Harley shared the collective concerns of everyone around the world who heard about the devastation.

Recently, a government study indicated that improper safety measures at various demolition sites increased the local level of asbestos exposure, as reported by the Yomiuri Shimbun, a Japanese newspaper.

Exceeding the limits

Another earthquake in 1995 also led to the demolition of several buildings. Eventually, three workers involved in these projects developed tumors that were associated with exposure to asbestos, leading to a government study on 36 building sites. Results showed that the concentration of asbestos at three locations exceeded 10 parts per liter of air, which is the safety limit put forth by the World Health Organization (WHO), according to the news source.

Following the 2011 earthquake, 114 sites located throughout Fukushima and other prefectures were designated for demolition, leading to the new study to measure the level of contamination around the sites.

Results showed that air concentrations of asbestos surpassed safety limits at 14 sites, ranging from 10.6 to 783.5 parts per liter of air. The greatest level was found in a Sendai hotel. City officials found that demolition crews did not employ the necessary asbestos exposure precautions, such as covering the walls with plastic sheets.

Government agencies speculate that the large amount of demolition work required after the earthquake overwhelmed crews and led to neglect of safety measures.

“Following the new findings, the Environment Ministry plans to revise the Air Pollution Control Law, which stipulates measures to prevent asbestos-related health damage, to bolster the ministry’s authority to conduct on-the-spot inspections,” the news source said.

Reduction efforts in Japan and beyond

Asbestos was widely used in Japan throughout the 1960s, particularly in the construction industry. However, in recognition of the health risks posed by the hazardous mineral, the government implemented an ordinance in 2006 that banned the use of materials that were more than 0.1 percent asbestos by weight.

More than 107,000 individuals around the world die from asbestos-related illnesses, such as malignant mesothelioma, according to the WHO. This led the agency to support and design several international efforts to curb the use of asbestos

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