Japan Eternit: An Unending Story
Japan continued to process and sell asbestos products long after other developed countries had banned its use. Litigation on behalf of asbestos victims has been making its way through the Japanese courts in recent years. The story of Mr. Kosuge is typical. His father, who died of pneumoconiosis at age 55 in 1983, had been employed in a factory owned by the Japan Eternit Pipe Company, part of the worldwide family of Eternit companies which dominated asbestos markets in many countries during the 20th century.
From 1952 to 1980, Mr. Kosuge Senior handled Eternit's raw asbestos on a daily basis. His son was exposed to the asbestos he brought home on the mask and clothes he wore at work. Mr. Kosuge Junior contracted lung cancer and mesothelioma; in 1997 he died when he was 42 years old.
A lawsuit initiated by Mrs. Kosuge in 2000 for her husband's para-occupational exposure to asbestos was the first of its type to be litigated in a Japanese court. Unfortunately, the Supreme Court ruled against the family in 2005 due to difficulties in identifying the deceased's disease.1 Mrs. Kosuge's claim for her husband's mesothelioma was subsequently recognized under the asbestos relief law.
The Japanese epidemic of asbestos-related diseases shows no signs of abating any time soon. More and more victims are seeking redress through the courts. While judicial results have been mixed, with some wins2 and some losses,3 the resolve of asbestos victims and their families to see justice done has not wavered.
July 31, 2012
1 Murayama T, Ushijima S. Eternit Activity and Emerging Victims: Japanese Case. Eternit and the Great Asbestos Trial, 2012. IBAS.
2 Kazan-Allen L. Confusing Time for Japan's Asbestos Victims. August 26, 2011.
3 Kazan-Allen L. Defeat of Japanese Asbestos Test Case. May 27, 2012.