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 5: Non-Occupational And Environmental Asbestos Exposures

Dr. Norio Kurumatni, of the Nara University School of Medicine, was the first speaker in the afternoon session. His subject was What We Learned and What We Need to do Next: Kubota's Case in Japan. Reviewing the evolution of international knowledge on the effects of non-occupational asbestos exposures, Kurumatni was in little doubt that the present disaster in Kubota could have been prevented had the warnings been heeded. Many of the present cases of asbestos related diseases would not have occurred if the factory had stopped using crocidolite in the mid-1960s. Had action been taken in 1986 when the first Kubota asbestos-cement worker died from mesothelioma, many lives would have been saved.

There are many lessons which can be learned from the Kubota debacle. It is absolutely essential that information is shared among local authorities and central government. New legislation should be enacted that makes such inter-agency communication mandatory; it should stipulate that corporate health professionals notify the authorities of the use of any toxic substances which could impact on the local community. Regarding the asbestos fallout from Kubota, government backing should be provided for:

The Relationship Between Environmental Asbestos Exposure and Malignant Mesothelioma in Busan,15 Korea was the title of the paper presented by Dr. Domyung Kang from the Pusan National University School of Medicine. In Korea there were 14 asbestos fabric factories, of which 9 were located in Busan City and 4 were nearby; the oldest (J-Chemistry), which was also the largest, began asbestos production in 1969 and closed in 1992. It was located in a residential area of the Yeonje district of Busan and used crocidolite asbestos. An elementary school was built in 1984 within 50 meters of the J-Chemistry factory; 10 other schools were located within 2 km of its premises. Three other asbestos fabric factories were situated in the Sasang district and four were in the Saha district. Nearly half a million people lived in proximity to these polluting units.

After TV broadcasts in 1990 about the operations of the asbestos fabric industry in Busan and increasing anecdotal reports of the elevated level of asbestos related disease in the city, a study was undertaken to quantify the impact of the asbestos sector on human health. Ten years (1997-2006) of data on the incidence of malignant mesothelioma, information from a national mesothelioma surveillance program and records from 4 Busan hospitals were analyzed. A total of 25 cases of malignant mesothelioma were diagnosed in Korea of which 13 were due to environmental exposures; 11 occurred in people who lived near the J-Chemistry factory. An analysis of the environmental exposures showed that 20% of those aff ected lived within 1 km of a polluting source, 56% within 2 km and 80% within 3 km. Among those with mesothelioma contracted from environmental exposures, there were more females then males; with occupationally-caused mesotheliomas, the situation was reversed. The speaker outlined plans which include: verifying conflicting data sources, following up on the status of high-risk groups, investigating the incidence of other asbestos-related diseases, establishing an Asbestos Center and developing compensation methods and criteria for Korean victims of environmental asbestos exposure.

Due to a last minute complication, the presentation by Dr. Annie Thebaud-Mony, the Director of Research at Inserm, was given by her colleague Dr. Paul Jobin. In The Social Visibility of Asbestos-Related Diseases Compared to other Industrial Diseases, the speaker discussed available means of raising public awareness of occupational ill health and thereby bringing a problem previously relegated to the industrial sector into the public arena. A detailed analysis of occupational cancers in Japan, France, Germany, Finland, Sweden, Denmark, Italy and Spain showed that asbestos-related cancers accounted for the vast majority of compensated cases ranging from 67% (Italy) to 97% (Japan, 2005). For the most part, the claiming process for these cancers ensures they remain invisible. Looking at asbestos-related disease within the context of occupational diseases such as Karoshi (death from overwork) and musculoskeletal disorders, the speaker concluded that although a certain level of social visibility had been reached in some countries for asbestos-related cancers and Karoshi, the occurrence of other industrial diseases remains hidden. These victims are no less worthy and society must mobilize to ensure they obtain the justice they deserve. Jobin concluded the presentation by stating that without a social battle there is no social visibility of industrial diseases.

Outline of The Asbestos-Related Health Damage Relief Law (the Law) was the title of the paper given by Kenji Kamigawara of the Environmental Restoration and Conservation Agency (ERCA), Japan. Under the Law approved by the Japanese Diet in February 2006, the ERCA certifies the eligibility of claims for mesothelioma and asbestos-related lung cancer compensation brought by victims and/or the families of deceased victims. Explaining the procedures followed for approving claims, the speaker highlighted the significant financial contribution required by the central government, local governments and Japanese companies to pay for this scheme. From the data he showed detailing applications and certifications for relief benefits as of September 30, 2007, it is clear that a significant proportion (38%) of the claims are not approved:

 MesotheliomaLung CancerTotal

Some claims are withdrawn during the vetting process because of lack of medical evidence or payments from other systems such as workers' accident insurance.

The final plenary speaker was Yeyong Choi from Friends of the Earth, Korea. His presentation, A Dangerous Trade, documented research conducted in Japan, Korea and Indonesia which clearly revealed the dumping of hazardous technology on developing countries. From 1943-1970, companies such as Tatsuta, a subsidiary of the Nichias Corporation, manufactured asbestos textiles in Japan using crocidolite asbestos. In 1971, Tatsuta's asbestos textile production relocated to Korea; Tatsuta and JEIL Chemistry, a Korean company, set up a joint venture called JEIL Asbest, with Tatsuta holding 45% of the new company's stock. The JEIL asbestos factory, which operated until 1990 in Busan, also used crocidolite asbestos. One year after production ceased in Korea, it re-started in Indonesia. Equipment, processes and procedures were transferred from Busan to Cibinong, Bogor, Indonesia; to asbestos textile factories such as that operated by PT Jeil Parjar.16 As in Japan and Korea, Indonesian asbestos factories are heavy polluters putting both workers and local people at risk from hazardous levels of exposure to asbestos. An analysis of PT Jeil Parjar products undertaken in 2007 showed they are composed of 48%-98% chrysotile asbestos. The workplace conditions in Cibinong's asbestos textile factories are on a par with those found in Busan, that is to say, workers do not have protective equipment and methods of suppressing fiber liberation are absent. Photos of broken sacks of Ural Asbestos fiber littering the factory premises were appalling, as were images the speaker showed of asbestos-covered factory equipment. No information is available at this time on the conditions in asbestos production units which were relocated from Korea to Malaysia and China.

Using graphs and data to document the incidence of asbestos-related disease in industrialized countries, the speaker asked: "What about Asia?" While an asbestos epidemic is emerging in Japan, only a few cases of asbestos-related disease have been diagnosed in Korea. A black and white photo of a young woman working in a Busan asbestos textile factory was contrasted with that of a color photo of a woman lying in a hospital bed; it was the same person. She died of mesothelioma in 2006. What about the other workers in Korea and those in Indonesia, Choi asked. What about the children at the schools in Japan, Korea and Indonesia which were/are in close proximity to the industrial polluters?

In Korea, at the same time as the import of raw asbestos fiber has been decreasing, the import of asbestos containing products has been on the rise. Asbestos contamination is everywhere in Korea as illustrated by the photos of contaminated subway stations, schools, public buildings and rubbish dumps. Concluding his presentation, Choi said work is urgently needed to quantify the ongoing asbestos hazard not only in Korea but also in Indonesia. Highlighting the cooperation of BANJAN, he called for the establishment of a similar organization in Korea and throughout the region: Ban Asbestos Asia.


15. Busan and Pusan are used interchangeably to refer to Korea's 2nd largest city. This metropolitan area has a population of 3.5+ million and is the location of the country's largest port.
16. On their company literature, JEIL Chemistry, a Korean company, lists PT JEIL, the Indonesian asbestos-producing company, as a joint venture.