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Fukui chemical workers allege workplace caused cancer, seek urgent improvements

by

Staff Writer

Two of five men who developed bladder cancer while working at a chemical factory manufacturing dyes and pigments are demanding that the government recognize their illness as job-related.

Speaking to reporters in Tokyo on Friday, the pair called on their employer — Tokyo-based Mitsuboshi Chemical — to make urgent improvements in conditions at the plant in Fukui Prefecture.

Employees Kenji Takayama and Yasuhiro Tanaka, both 56, have each worked at the plant for nearly 20 years. They say lousy working conditions — including a lack of ventilation that routinely makes workers sick — could have caused the cancer.

The five who contracted bladder cancer were involved in mixing or drying aromatic amines, including the particularly toxic chemical o-Toluidine.

One of the cancer sufferers has retired, but the four others remain with the company.

The health ministry is now looking into the possible link between the workers’ cancer and the factory environment, while Mitsuboshi Chemical has not commented on a possible link.

“I’d like my company to acknowledge problems in our working environment,” said Tanaka, who was diagnosed with bladder cancer in November. The two men went to hospitals for cancer tests after noticing blood in their urine.

The workers wore dust masks at work, but Tanaka said he suspects the masks do not prevent small toxic substances being breathed in. He said when the masks were taken off, sticky residue is found inside.

Moreover, the factory was so humid in summer that workers wore T-shirts. This meant they may have absorbed carcinogenic substances through their skin, Takayama added.

Takayama, who was diagnosed with cancer in August, called on the company to make urgent improvements in the working environment.

“I would like the company management to improve the labor environment for my younger co-workers and for the future of the company,” Takayama said.

Hiroyuki Isobe, executive chairman of the Kansai chapter of the Kagaku Ippan Rodo Kumiai Rengo, a labor union that represents them, said they visited the Tokyo head office of Mitsuboshi Chemical earlier on Friday.

The company acknowledged that 10 out of a total of some 40 employees at the plant were engaged in the same line of work as Takayama and Tanaka and therefore had possible exposure to o-Toluidine. It avoided comment, however, on whether their handling of the chemical was responsible for the cancer, Isobe said.