Minister of Health, Labor and Welfare announced his decision to apologize and reconcile with the plaintiffs over asbestos disasters as the ministry had accepted the ruling of the Supreme Court. That will lead to a successful settlement of the tragedy. Devastating effects of asbestos, however, are extensive and deep. Unfortunate incidents may occur. The top court’s ruling implies a starting point to build a society without asbestos.
STARTING POINT FOR ALL VICTIMS TO BE COMPENSATED
The health minister Shiozaki Yasuhisa had a press meeting October 21, when he told clearly that he would make an apology to 82 plaintiffs in total, out of which 54 won in the lawsuits, and ask for the rest 28 plaintiffs whose cases had been sent back to the Osaka High Court from the top court to reconcile with the government. The ministry explained a policy to settle cases of other victims covered by the recent ruling, waiting for their appeals.
Twelve days have passed since the ruling condemning the government for erroneous actions. The decision is reasonable, but the plaintiffs who suffer from lung cancer and mesothelioma due to asbestos and fear for deaths at any moment and their families have waited quite long for the judgment.
The minister should apologize, reconcile and compensate as soon as possible, but the disaster does not end then. Institutional arrangement is required in the medical services.
Compensation: Only to A Few
Let’s look at the ruling: it limits to factory workers who could not enjoy preventive measures, including ventilation and wearing masks, and were employed for some time during a period of 13 years from 1958 to 71. This means the ruling covers a tiny number of sufferers.
Other sufferers are those who got ill after 1971, residents near the factories who were exposed and family members damaged by way of workers. Are included also construction workers and those volunteers who worked to remove debris after the 1995 earthquakes in Osaka/Kobe/Awaji areas. They are recognized for work-related illness. Asbestos was used for parts of car brakes, the factories in Sennan area, Osaka Prefecture, have a history over a hundred years of operation ? the disaster in Japan is extensive and deep, being a catastrophe.
The deadly substance remains today in the old buildings in an amount of several millions of tons. In some years demolition operations will see a peak period. In the process asbestos may scatter, which may hurt people.
Prof. Yoshimura Ryoichi (Laws on Environment), Law School of Ritsumeikan University told: ‘a fundamental revision must be made in the Act to Protect Asbestos Victims as the law relies on absence of legal responsibility of the state. We must take advantage of this opportunity that the government should apologize and compensate in compliance with the verdict of the Supreme Court’ (the Mainichi, dated October 22). The professor is well aware that damages are vast, deep and serious.
Toxicity Known for over 70 Years
Asbestos is of fine mineral fibers and is characterized by fire-proof and heat-retaining properties. It was used massively and widely in construction materials and vehicles for transportation.
When a person inhales the substance, fibers cause asbestosis, which brings a breathing difficulty, mesothelioma and lung cancer. Sometimes symptoms appear several decades afterwards. In 1995 a certain lethal type of asbestos was banned to use, in 2004 sales and use were practically banned and in 2012 it was completely forbidden.
The government has known about seriousness of asbestos disaster over 70 years, but has been negligent because it preferred merits to restrictions and preventive measures, giving priority to economy rather than a life. The government is fully liable as it has ignored lives of people.
November 4, 2014