Asbestos widespread at defunct Japanese factory

December 27th, 2006

One man who formerly lived close by an old Kubota factory in Amagasaki, Japan remembers the virtual omnipresence of asbestos in the area. The man, now 62, insists on anonymity. “Amagasaki at the time was a polluted city, full of soot,” he says, adding that it was common see the silvery fibers in the air.

Six months ago, it was revealed that some nearby residents may be suffering from asbestos-linked illnesses. Asbestos, a fibrous mineral used for a variety of purposes, is known to cause diseases such as mesothelioma, a lethal cancer found in the lining of the lungs, heart and abdomen, many years after being ingested or inhaled.

The man, who lived lived in Amagasaki for 18 years when he was younger, recalls how the dust filtered inside houses and the sensation of prickliness on his skin whenever he went out.

The Kubota factory operated 24 hours a day from 1954 to 1975, using nearly 90 tons of blue asbestos to manufacture things such as water pipes. Blue asbestos (crocidolite) is even more toxic than white asbestos (chrysotile), which has led to a great deal of misery itself.

An alarming proportion of the workers involved in production there developed mesothelioma and 61 have died. The company’s safety measures were limited to providing workers with sponges and cotton gauze, and the windows were usually wide open.

The vigorous efforts of Kazuko Furukawa, 57, proved that asbestos affected the people who lived near the factory. Furukawa, whose husband died of mesothelioma in 2001, took part in activities of support groups to help those who were in the same predicament. While walking around the old factory, she met residents who never worked with asbestos but who had mesothelioma  symptoms.

Due to the efforts of Furukawa and others like her, Kubota later started paying “sympathy” money to patients and “condolence” money to families of those who died from mesothelioma.

According to a survey conducted by epidemiology officials at Nara Medical University, people who lived within 500 meters of the old Kubota factory are 10 times more likely than the average person to die of mesothelioma.

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