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

Table of Contents

Introduction
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
Appendix

Session 4: Taking Action On Japan's Epidemic Of Asbestos-Related Diseases

The first speaker on November 24th morning was Akinobu Itoh, the General Secretary of Zenkowan13 and the Secretary General of BANJAN (1988-1993); he addressed the subject: Initiatives Taken by All Japan Dockworkers' Union and Early Activities of Ban Asbestos Network Japan (BANJAN). A series of photographs showing the hazardous conditions created by loading and unloading asbestos shipments at Japanese docks made the level of hazardous exposure experienced by dock workers in Japan very clear.14 In 1974 during voluntary health check-ups, the union discovered that some of its members had contracted asbestos-related diseases. When they filed applications for compensation under the Pneumoconiosis Law, they were informed that: "Port cargo handling is not deemed to be dust yielding work under the Pneumoconiosis Law." It took 10 years of concerted protests, lobbying and programs such as the Dust Particles Asbestos Initiative by the trade union to get this decision reversed (April, 1985). As of July 2005, 13 union members had confirmed cases of asbestos-related disease; there were 6 cases of asbestosis, 6 of lung cancer and 1 of mesothelioma; in the last 2.5 years, 6 more cases of asbestos-related disease have been confirmed with 4 mesotheliomas and 2 cases of lung cancer being diagnosed.

Achieving the extension of the Pneumoconiosis Law to cover dockyard workers with asbestos-related illnesses was just one of the union's accomplishments. It has also:

With the impending dissolution of the General Council of Trade Unions of Japan (1987), groups representing labor and civil society decided to establish BANJAN. As asbestos was regarded as purely an occupational issue, awareness of the national implications of increasing consumption was low; the government's position on asbestos was that it could be used safely under "controlled conditions." BANJAN followed a phased approach to assessing and quantifying the issues. In Spring 1987, asbestos exploded onto the national consciousness over the presence of sprayed asbestos products in schools. Unfortunately, once the media coverage stopped, the public lost interest. BANJAN continued its work and negotiations with various government ministries and agencies were commenced. A bill to ban asbestos was presented to the national Diet in 1992 but was scrapped by a committee in the lower house. BANJAN continues to demand improvements to programs and measures for asbestos-injured individuals and remains committed to its core principles of:

"phased actions for realizing a non-asbestos society, policy enforcement based on the precautionary principle, information disclosure, consensus building among the nation and implementation of an integrated controlling structure."

Tackling Asbestos in Yokosuka, was the title of the presentation by Munehiro Yasumoto of the Kanagawa Occupational Safety and Health Center. Yasumoto described the coalescing of local and national groups to address the high local incidence of what was originally thought of as pneumoconiosis and was later redefined to include asbestos-related illnesses under the remit of the Yokosuka project. Supporters of this initiative included occupational health organizations, patient groups, medical bodies and labor unions. The leadership of local people such as that provided by the late Mr. Tajiri was pivotal in assuring that the project responded to the needs of the community. Actions taken included: setting up the Yokosuka Pneumoconiosis Society, founding a Yokosuka branch of the Japan Pneumoconiosis Association, lobbying for a Pneumoconiosis and Asbestos Fund (which was set up in 1997), raising awareness of occupational illnesses through initiatives such as the pneumoconiosis and asbestos health problems hotline, and supporting legal actions to obtain compensation for the injured such as victims with asbestosis or mesothelioma who had worked at the U.S. naval base in Yokosuka.

Hajime Miyamoto of the National Federation of Construction Workers' Union (Zenkensoren), spoke about The Measures Concerning Asbestos Exposure and the Compensation for Construction Workers in the next presentation. In 2006, there were 5.5 million construction workers in Japan; Zenkensoren, established in 1960, represents 710,000 of them. In 1987 the union set up an Asbestos Committee to raise members' awareness of the occupational asbestos hazard. Questionnaires were circulated and health examinations were undertaken; literature and educational videos have been produced focusing on asbestos hazards in the construction and demolition sectors. Working with BANJAN, the Union has lobbied the Government and national medical associations for better medical treatment and better support for victims.

As in other parts of the world, construction workers in Japan are at high risk of contracting asbestos-related diseases. Figures shown by this speaker documented the impact asbestos exposures have had on them.

Compensation Cases Among Construction Workers
Disease20052006
Meosthelioma213486
Lung Cancer88361
Total301847

From 2005-2006, the number of cases nearly trebled from 301 to 847. The geographical distribution of cases is also significant; in 2005, compensation cases were approved in twelve prefectures, in 2006, twenty prefectures were involved. Although the union's efforts have been crucial in identifying and bringing compensation cases, unresolved problems remain, such as the shortage of medical facilities, failure to diagnosis asbestos-related illnesses and difficulties in establishing the site of hazardous exposures in individual cases.

Zenkensoren supported the movement to collect a million signatures for a petition requesting the Diet enact a new asbestos law which ensures "fair compensation and equal relief" to all victims. This action gathered 1,870,000 signatures!

Kazuko Furukawa, of the Japan Association of Mesothelioma and Asbestos-Related Diseases Victims and their Families (the Association), reminded conference delegates of the very personal nature of the asbestos tragedy; Mrs. Furukawa is a mesothelioma widow. Her presentation, Live Today for the Future, documented the efforts of ordinary men and women whose lives have been impacted by asbestos in Japan. The Association was founded in February 2004 to spread awareness of asbestos-related diseases and provide a forum for information exchange amongst the injured and their family members to combat the depression, loneliness and isolation an asbestos diagnosis brings. Setting up this national body was made possible by years of work by local groups which had organized meetings, press conferences and lobbying efforts in asbestos hotspots for a number of years.

In August 2004, the Association began negotiations with the Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare. A few months later it played a pivotal role in the organization of the Global Asbestos Congress (GAC); the GAC 2004 provided a wonderful opportunity for Japanese people to have face-to-face meetings with overseas experts, victims' representatives, victims and bereaved family members. The Association worked with injured individuals and local groups in the run-up to the "Kubota Shock" (July 2005) and in the months which followed played an important role in the press coverage of the unfolding asbestos scandal in Japan. In 2007, the Association sponsored a petition for the provision of basic rights for asbestos victims and for the creation of an asbestos-free society which attracted massive support. To draw attention to this document, the Association held public meetings and a rally in Tokyo.

The next speaker, Sugio Furuya, known to all the conference delegates as the main organizer of this event, has been leading the Ban Asbestos movement in Japan for many years. It was his job to try and sum up 20 years of BANJAN's efforts in 30 minutes: not an easy task! In his presentation, Asbestos Issues in Japan: Past and Present, Furuya placed the Japanese asbestos experience within the international context, showing graphs of national and regional consumption data and mesothelioma incidence. Among the industrialized nations listed, Japan was the last to recognize and compensate cases of asbestosis, lung cancer and mesothelioma; the first Workers' Compensation awards for these diseases were in 1954, 1973 and 1978 respectively. Selected photographs from the BANJAN scrapbook illustrated the growth of the ban asbestos campaign featuring landmark events such as the Global Asbestos Congresses (2000 & 2004), Asian Asbestos Conference (2006), Japan-Korea Asbestos Symposium (2007), victims' meetings throughout Japan and newspaper coverage of key developments such as the "Kubota Shock" and "One Million Signature Campaign." BANJAN's success is based on the strength of its grass-roots support and members of the BANJAN board include representatives from all parts of civil society including railway, construction, water and shipyard workers' trade unions, teachers, consumers, asbestos victims, scientists, technicians and health and safety campaigners.

BANJAN's basic demands are:

The purpose of the conference in Yokahama is, said Furuya, to investigate compensation systems in other countries and identify which work best for asbestos victims. To this end, comparative data from Japan, the UK, the Netherlands, France and Belgium were presented. The speaker criticized the low levels of compensation being paid in Japan to victims of nonoccupational asbestos exposure and the excessive burden of proof placed on sufferers and their families.

Endnotes

13. Zenkowan: All Japan Dockworkers' Union.
14. In the Port of Kobe in 1977 asbestos exposure levels inside containers were measured at up to 73.2 f/ml; at the time, the recommended level was 5 f/ml.