New Japanese Initiatives: Prevention & Treatment
Procedures are being pioneered by groups working in Tokyo to deal with the environmental and human problems caused by the widespread use of asbestos in Japan.1 Japanese regulations, routinely flouted, stipulate that contractors must file a special application explaining how the liberation of asbestos caused by the demolition of contaminated buildings will be prevented. As such work is expensive, many contractors do not comply with the regulations. In 2005, 269 buildings with a floor spaces exceeding 80 square meters were demolished in Chiyoda Ward; although 34 are believed to have contained asbestos only 6 applications were received. According to a ward official:
It's highly possible that the other buildings also included asbestos but no measures were taken (during demolition). This could have posed health risks to workers and those living in the area.
For the first time, local government in Japan is acting to prevent this type of risk. From April, 2007, Chiyoda Ward officials will inspect all buildings earmarked for demolition which contractors claim are asbestos-free. If a contractor is found to have attempted to circumvent the regulations, the Government of Chiyoda Ward (Tokyo) will consider filing a criminal complaint under the Construction Waste Recycling Law.
The incidence of mesothelioma, an invariably fatal asbestos cancer, has risen exponentially in Japan. Researchers believe that early diagnosis could hold the key for the successful treatment of patients. On January 18, 2007, researchers at Juntendo University, in Bunkyo Ward, announced plans to track 40,000 asbestos-exposed individuals over a five year period. Using a diagnostic kit developed by Professor Okio Hino, Professor of Pathology and Oncology at Juntendo University, researchers will examine blood samples for a marker antibody indicating the presence of a mesothelioma tumor. Candidates found to have this antibody will be followed for five years. This is the first nationwide long-term survey of asbestos-exposed individuals in Japan; approval is currently being sought from the university's ethics panel.2
January 29, 2007
1 According to the Construction and Transport Ministry, more than 250,000 buildings with floor spaces exceeding 1,000 square meters were built between 1955 and the late 1980s, when asbestos was frequently employed in buildings as a fire retardant. Chiyoda govt to check buildings for asbestos. The Yomiuri Shimbun. January 26, 2007.
2 Likely asbestos tumor candidates to be tracked. The Japan Times. January 19, 2007.