The health ministry said Thursday it will approve applications for compensation on behalf of 16 people who say they developed bile duct cancer while working for a printer in Osaka.
The Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry instructed the Osaka Labor Bureau to approve the applications by the end of the month. It will be the first time accident compensation insurance benefits has been authorized for bile duct cancer.
A ministry panel concluded that the 16 people, seven of whom have died, developed the cancer after working at Sanyo-CYP Co. over long periods in an environment in which the air contained a high density of an organic chlorine cleaning agent known as 1, 2-dichloropropan.
The victims had no other causal factors, such as chronic diseases, that would result in bile duct cancer, according to the panel. A report compiled by the panel showed the risk of a worker in the company’s printing section developing bile duct cancer is around 1,200 times higher than the average for Japanese men.
Bile duct cancer is more common among the elderly, but the 16 print workers contracted the disease while relatively young. One died while still in his 20s, and seven developed the cancer in their 30s, three of whom died. The other eight contracted the disease in their 40s, and three of them died.
Based on the opinion of experts cited in the report, the ministry also took into account a similar organic chlorine cleaning solvent called dichloromethane as a possible cause of the cancer.
Regarding applications for compensation from 47 people who claim to have developed bile duct cancer while working at printers in Miyagi Prefecture and Fukuoka Prefecture, among other locations, the ministry will from April examine the possible causal relationship between the solvent and the disease.
The statute of limitations for work-related compensation is five years from the death of the applicant. But the ministry designated Friday as the start date of the five-year period for bile duct cancer caused by the two chemical substances, as the possible link between the disease and the nature of the job was only recently acknowledged.
Noting that the causal relationship has yet to be fully substantiated, the report said that if new evidence appears, the decision as to whether the disease was induced by work should be based on the new findings.
Shingo Honda, 31, who has bile duct cancer, welcomed the government’s move, saying he won’t have to worry about medical bills any more, but he also lamented that other people’s lives might have been saved if the company had taken appropriate steps.
“I have had nights worried sick that I might die,” said Honda, who was diagnosed with the disease in September 2012.