Asbestos Massacre at Japanese Factories
The effects of widescale asbestos misuse in Japan are increasingly coming to the fore. In recent days, major Japanese manufacturers have admitted scores of asbestos-related deaths amongst former employees, customers and local people. Whilst Japanese asbestos victims' groups and NGOs have uncovered the extent of the human tragedy which occurred at Nichias Corporation and Kubota Corporation within Japan, no one know how many asbestos-dead there are amongst the worldwide subsidiaries of these hundred year old multinationals.
At a press conference held on June 29, 2005, a spokesperson for Kubota Corporation, an industrial equipment manufacturer based in Osaka, confirmed the asbestos deaths of scores of former employees. The death-toll since 1978 includes 75 workers from the company's Kanzaki factory and 4 subcontractors who had been employed at the same facility. There are serious concerns over the health of 552 other workers from this factory who were directly involved in the manufacture of asbestos pipes for a minimum of one year between 1954 to 1975. Eighteen retired workers are currently being treated for asbestos-related diseases.
Environmental contamination caused by the operations at the factory is believed to have caused the deaths from mesothelioma of two people who lived within a 1 kilometre radius of the factory; three other local residents are receiving medical treatment for this incurable cancer. Although the company has provided consolation money of 2 million yen (US$18,000) to the surviving patients, it has not apologized to them maintaining that the link between the factory and their illnesses has not been proved. Between 1954 and 1975, 240,000 tons of asbestos were used at the Kanzaki factory in Amagasaki, Hyogo Prefecture in the production of asbestos water pipes and building materials; the majority of fiber consumed was crocidolite. The factory closed in 1995. On June 29, Kubota Executive Taichi Ito told reporters: We followed laws and regulations properly (at that time), but it is extremely regrettable that the health of local residents was harmed.1 The next day, officials at the Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry announced their intention to look into the labour conditions which led to these deaths. A spokesperson for the Environment Ministry said he was unaware of any asbestos health hazards involving residents living near the now-defunct Kanzaki plant. Officials from the Amagasaki City Health Department will deal with queries regarding environmental health risks posed by asbestos.
Kubota shares fell 2.9% to 608 yen (US$5.53) on the Tokyo Stock Exchange on June 30. The multinational corporation has 11,6000 employees and operations in the US, Canada, Britain, China and Germany.
On July 5, 2005 news that 86 former employees of Nichias Corporation had died of asbestos-related disease since 1976 attracted media attention throughout Japan. Sixty-one of the deceased had been employed at four of the company's factories; the remaining 25 had experienced hazardous asbestos exposures whilst working at various construction sites. A Nichias spokesman said: We have already paid compensation for the deaths of 61 people.
Other Japanese companies which have recently disclosed asbestos deaths amongst their workforce include:
Taiheiyo Cement Corporation: 16 asbestos deaths of employees between 1973 and 2004;
Nozawa Corporation, a producer of construction materials based in Kobe, has reported that 7 employees have died of asbestos diseases;
Japan Insulation Company in Osaka also reported seven asbestos deaths amongst its workforce;
this week, occupational asbestos deaths have been reported by the Mitsubishi Materials Kenzai Corporation, the Asashi Glass Company, the A & A Material Corporation and a subsidiary of Ube Industries Ltd.2
July 8, 2005
1 Asbestos Victims? Kubota to be quizzed over workers deaths. The Japan Times. July 1, 2005. Website: http://www.japantimes.co.jp/cgi-bin/makeprfy.pl5?nn20050701a3.htm [Accessed July 1, 2005]
2 Death toll from asbestos-linked diseases rises to 280. July 6, 2005. Website: http://asia.news.yahoo.com/050706/kyodo/d8b5nc3g0.html [Accessed July 8, 2005]