International Asbestos Conference For Fair And Equal Compensation For All Asbestos Victims And Their Families

Table of Contents

Session 1: Current Status Of Asbestos-Related Diseases In Japan
Session 2: Asbestos Compensation In Europe
Session 3: International Asbestos Issues: Epidemiology, Legislation and Victims' Rights
Session 4: Taking Action On Japan's Epidemic Of Asbestos-Related Diseases
Session 5: Non-Occupational And Environmental Asbestos Exposures
Session 6: Question & Answer Session
Session 7: Concluding Thoughts

Session 1: Current Status Of Asbestos-Related Diseases In Japan

The consequences of Japan's asbestos use have impacted on the public consciousness on two occasions: in 1987, with the news of the dumping of asbestos containing waste from a U.S. aircraft carrier in Yokosuka City and in 2005 with the revelation of an epidemic of asbestos cancer (mesothelioma) linked to an asbestos factory belonging to the Kubota Corporation. The plant in Amagasaki City manufactured asbestos-containing pipes and building materials for almost 40 years. In the paper Asbestos-Related Diseases Developed among Residents in the Vicinity of a Former Asbestos Pipe Factory in Amagasaki City, Japan, Dr. Shinji Kumagai showed photographs and diagrams illustrating the proximity of residential areas to the factory which annually used, on average, 4670 tons of crocidolite (blue asbestos) from 1957-1975, and 4600 tons of chrysotile (white asbestos) from 1975-1995.

In 2004, a citizen's group began door-to-door investigations near the factory and found three residents with mesothelioma; the following year, negotiations with the Kubota Corporation began. At a press conference on June 29, 2005, it was announced that 79 employees from the plant had died of lung cancer, mesothelioma or asbestosis between 1978 and 2004 and that Kubota was paying 2 million yen ($20,000/ €12,788) as "consolation money" (Kubota never used the term compensation). After the newspaper coverage of this event appeared in the national media, enquiries from the public inundated not only the victims' group but also Kubota and Amagasaki City Government. In December 2005, the President of Kubota confirmed that negotiations were ongoing with asbestos victims and their families; in April 2006, it was announced that an agreement had been reached.

Scientists undertook investigations into the correlation of asbestos-related disease and asbestos pollution from the plant. They concluded:

In Professor Takehiko Murayama's presentation, Japanese Perspective and Liability, bar charts and graphs revealed an upward trend in Japanese mesothelioma mortality. In 2006, the latest year for which data are available, there were more than 1,000 mesothelioma deaths in Japan. Compared to other countries, such as the UK, ratios of male: female mesothelioma mortality exhibited an unusual pattern with, in recent years, 2 male: 1 female. Although the reason for the relatively high incidence amongst women remains unproven, a high element of environmental exposure is suspected. Color coded maps of Japan showed the distribution of asbestos-using shipyards and factories that correlated almost exactly with asbestos disease hotspots. The prevalence of middle-large shipyards in the West of Japan and asbestos factories in Tokyo, Amagasaki City, and Osaka were reflected in the regional distribution of asbestos-related disease.

The use of asbestos in Japan began before World War II and was stipulated by the Government which controlled imports, promoted asbestos consumption in industrialization efforts and provided assistance, such as subsidies, to encourage use. In the 1950s-1960s, increasing activity of the private sector and more technical cooperation between Japanese and foreign companies saw national consumption increase. A rise in foreign investment by Japanese companies stimulated asbestos consumption in neighboring countries. Concurrently, international conferences were being held which documented the health repercussions of exposure to asbestos. Events such as the 13th International Conference on Occupational Health (New York, 1960), the Biological Effects of Asbestos (New York, 1964), 9th International Cancer Congress (Tokyo, 1966), International Conference on Occupational Health (Tokyo, 1969) left government and industry stakeholders with few illusions about potential dangers; yet virtually no efforts were made in Japan to protect those at risk of occupational or environmental exposure.

The reaction of Japanese companies to the widely publicized news of asbestos epidemics at their factories has, on the whole, been motivated by their desire to avoid lawsuits. They pay compensation at a relatively low rate to avoid an examination of the hazardous conditions which existed in their factories, all the while promoting themselves as socially and ethically responsible corporations. Civil society has the right to know what negligent corporations knew about the asbestos hazard and when they knew it. Companies must disclose corporate asbestos practices not only at their manufacturing facilities in Japan but also at their foreign factories.

The next speaker, Professor Ken Takahashi, discussed an International Comparative Approach to the Global Asbestos Epidemic. Building on previous research,4 national mortality rate trends of asbestos diseases from 1996-2005 were related with trends of per capita asbestos use from 1970-1985. A global survey was done of countries with relevant data, age-adjusted annual and period mortality rates for 1996-2005 were calculated and historical asbestos consumption was characterized by per capita use and status of national bans. Professor Takahashi presented tables which summarized the findings amongst which were:

Concluding his talk, Takahashi pointed out that "national interventions to substantially reduce asbestos use, including bans" had been effective in scores of countries.

Journalist Hidetoshi Ohshima has covered the unfolding of the Japanese asbestos scandal since the "Kubota Shock"5 in 2005. In his talk on Compensation and Relief for Asbestos Victims in Japan: Observations Based on Interviews he focused on the many gaps which persist in the disbursement of compensation for asbestos-related diseases in Japan. There are, he said, gaps in: data collection, perception, payment of workers' compensation insurance benefits, with whole industrial sectors totally ignored, and compensation paid by negligent employers and polluting factories. The Japanese Government has a collective responsibility with asbestos-polluting corporations as the Diet consistently backed industry at the expense of workers:

In interviews he has conducted with Japanese asbestos victims and their families, Ohshima observed the bewilderment and despair at the neglect they have suffered from government agencies and polluting companies. Exhibiting photographs and newspaper articles which documented the growth of the Japanese asbestos victims' movement, he described some of the changes that have occurred:

Nevertheless there are many asbestos-injured who remain uncompensated, including those with occupational and neighborhood exposure and people suffering from asbestos-caused lung cancer; whole industrial sectors are still overlooked such as seamen; limitation issues have barred many affected families from obtaining compensation. In the aftermath of the Kubota Shock, the Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare disclosed data revealing the number of asbestos victims compensated at named factories; this gave local people the opportunity to seek redress from these polluters. With recent moves to conceal this information, one has to question the depth of the Government's commitment to helping those so cruelly affected by the country's asbestos legacy.


3. On the south side of the plant, asbestos fiber concentrations exceeded 3f/ml. Areas found to have fiber concentrations greater than 0.01f/ml were: south-south west 4 kilometres/(km), north-north east 1.5 km, north-west 1 km, south-east 1.6 km.
4. In an earlier paper, Takahashi found that an increment of 1 kg per capita corresponded to a 2.4-fold increase in mesothelioma and a 2.7-fold increase in asbestosis.
5. In July 2005, announcements by several major Japanese corporations of asbestos-related deaths amongst former workers became front page news throughout the Japanese media. The attention these announcements attracted was enormous; the "Kubota Shock," as this sequence of events came to be called, had a great impact on the national government and the public.