Asbestos victims file 6.6 billion yen class action lawsuit in Tokyo

Saturday, May 17, 2008

Construction workers and next of kin of deceased workers filed a lawsuit in Tokyo, Japan Friday seeking damages of approximately 6.6 billion yen (about US$64 million) from the government and manufacturers related to illnesses stemming from exposure to asbestos. 178 plaintiffs; including construction workers and family members filed the suit in Tokyo District Court against 46 building manufacturers and the Government of Japan.

According to the Mainichi Daily News, the class action suit is the first that has been filed in Japan related to health damages caused by asbestos exposure at construction sites. The plaintiffs hail from the Japanese prefectures of Tokyo, Saitama and Chiba.

The plaintiffs claim that the government and manufacturers knew of the dangers of asbestos inhalation but failed to take proper precautions, including ceasing to promote asbestos as a cheap fire retardant and banning production of the material.

They state that after inhaling asbestos in the workplace, 172 people have developed lung cancer or mesothelioma, and that almost half of those afflicted are now dead. Plaintiffs argue that the government and health ministry did not act quickly enough after international organizations issued warnings in 1972 that asbestos could be a carcinogen.

Plaintiffs also place blame with the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry for sanctioning the use of asbestos under Japanese Industrial Standards, and with the Ministry of Land, Infrastructure and Transport for approving the use of materials comprised of asbestos and other substances under Japan’s Building Standards Law.

We will do our utmost until we win the suit.

“We will do our utmost until we win the suit,” said Kazuo Miyajima, 78, who heads the group of plaintiffs. Lawyers for the plaintiffs released a statement saying: “We seek complete relief for the victims by clarifying the liability of the state and the manufacturers.”

Approximately 40 construction workers from Kanagawa Prefecture plan to file a similar lawsuit in June in Yokohama District Court.

After a 2005 revelation that residents who lived near a factory in Amagasaki, Hyogo Prefecture developed diseases related to asbestos, the government implemented a law in 2006 which provides monetary assistance to asbestos victims and relatives of deceased family members. The plaintiffs argue that the amount of financial assistance given to families and victims of asbestos-related diseases is not sufficient.

Asbestos has been used in Japan as a fire retardant, for sound absorption, and for insulation. It was mixed in concrete and water and sprayed on walls and ceilings, but the practice of spraying asbestos in this manner was banned in Japan in 1975.

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