The 18th Anniversary of the Kubota Shock
June 29th is an important day in the history of the ban asbestos movement. On that day in 2005, the human consequences of Japans massive use of asbestos exploded onto the public consciousness in what has become known as the Kubota Shock.1 The announcement by representatives of the Kubota company that dozens of its employees had been killed by workplace asbestos exposures made headline news around the country. In the following days, one company after another made similar announcements.2
In the June 29th statement by Kubota, the company admitted that 51 workers from the former Kanzaki asbestos-cement pipe plant in Amagasaki City and five people who lived in the vicinity of the factory plant had died from mesothelioma, the signature cancer associated with asbestos exposures.
Following negotiations with the victims, the Kubota company agreed to pay compensation to the injured at a level equal to that obtained by litigation. By June 15, 2022, 398 residents most of whom had contracted malignant mesothelioma had been identified. Of these, 373 (94%) had died. Amongst the Kubota plants workforce, 252 had developed asbestos-related diseases and 228 (90%) had died by December 2022.
Donations by victims from the Kubota factory supported work to establish the Asian Ban Asbestos Network (ABAN): a network of organizations and individuals from countries in Asia and the Asia-Pacific region which agree to work together on activities towards achieving common objectives.3 Following ABANs creation in 2009, donations from Kubota victims were used to facilitate regional ABAN meetings and progress outreach initiatives throughout Asia.
Campaigners from Japan & Korea hold protest outside Kubota factory on the 7th Anniversary of the Kubota Shock. June 29, 2012.
The Kubota Shock was highly significant for many reasons. First of all, the asbestos epidemic in Amagasaki City was discovered as a result of collaborative efforts by the family of Yukio Furukawa, who died in 2001 from asbestos-related lung cancer, occupational health and community activists working in tandem with medical experts, and Hidetoshi Oshima, a reporter from one of Japans major newspapers.
Following the Kubota Shock, painstaking work by Japanese asbestos victims groups identified asbestos hotspots around the country and shamed the Government into action to support the injured. The victims high-profile campaign resulted in the Japanese National Assembly enacting the Damage Relief Act and the Environmental Asbestos Health Damage Relief Act. After the Kubota Shock, the Japanese Government could no longer ignore its responsibility for the damage done as a result of its failure to take timely action on the asbestos hazard.4
The Kubota Shock heightened public concerns about Japans pollution problems following on from the Minamata mercury scandal (1950s), the Yokaichi asthma scandal (1960s), and the mass cadmium poisoning in Toyama Prefecture (1960s). Diseases caused by pollution were, as a result of the Kubota Shock, once again part of the national discourse.
Even now, eighteen years after the Kubota Shock occurred, victims are still being diagnosed with asbestos cancers as a result of historic exposures.5 In an article published on June 30, 2023, a 76-year-old man from Takarazuka City who grew up 200 meters from the old factory spoke of his shock when he was diagnosed in March this year with malignant pleural mesothelioma: I can't believe this happened just because I lived there.
July 7, 2023
1 For many years, Japan was one of the world's biggest consumers of asbestos; long after the use of crocidolite and amosite asbestos had been banned in other industrial countries, consumption continued in Japan.
2 On July 1, 2005 the Taiheiyo Cement Corporation announced that six of its workers had also died of mesothelioma. Five days later the Nichias Corporation, formerly called the Japan Asbestos Corporation, admitted that 85 former workers had died of asbestos-related diseases.
Kazan-Allen L. Killing the Future Asbestos Use in Asia. IBAS 2007; p 18-19.
3 The Asian Ban Asbestos Network. May 22, 2009.
4 Furuya, S. Japans Fight for Asbestos Justice. December 18, 2013.
Kazan-Allen, L. Asbestos Cause and Effect. July 2, 2012.
5 クボタショック18年、今なお続く被害に募る悔しさ 3月に中皮腫発症の男性「ただ住んでいただけで…」 [18 years after the Kubota shock, the chagrin that continues to grow, a man who developed mesothelioma in March: I just lived there...]. June 30, 2023.
「まさか自分が」続く発症 石綿問題、「クボタショック」から18年 [18 years after the "Kubota shock" of the asbestos problem]. June 30, 2023.