OSAKA — One of Japan’s largest air pollution lawsuits ended Wednesday when about 100 plaintiffs settled four court cases with the state and Hanshin Express Public Corp.
The settlement will not bring payments from the state and the public corporation or an apology recognizing their responsibility for causing health problems. But it does call for specific measures to improve air quality, effectively showing the state’s partial responsibility for the pollution, observers said.
The agreement ended a 20-year legal battle in which the plaintiffs sought damages for health problems caused by the exhaust fumes from vehicles and smokestacks here in Nishi-Yodogawa Ward.
The plaintiffs — sworn victims of illnesses caused by factory and auto emissions or victims’ surviving relatives — filed the four cases over a span of 14 years, demanding compensation for respiratory ailments.
Nine companies also sued in the litigation reached a compromise in March 1995 to pay about 4 billion yen in damages. Wednesday’s settlement is expected to influence similar air pollution lawsuits pending in Kawasaki, Nagoya and Aamagasaki, Hyogo Prefecture, the observers said.
Specific antipollution measures outlined in the settlement include easing traffic on the expressway in Nishi-Yodogawa Ward by reducing the number of lanes, removing nitrogen oxides from auto emissions and implementing highway air pollution tests.
The litigants also agreed to start regular consultations between the highway operator and the ward office and between the state and the ward office.
The measures are based on a proposal by the Polluted Area Revitalization Center, a foundation created with part of the payments from the corporate defendants.
Known collectively as the Nishi-Yodogawa case, the suits were filed by four different groups of plaintiffs between 1978 and 1992. A total of 730 plaintiffs — those suffering from such illnesses as asthma and relatives of those who have died from their illnesses — had joined the four lawsuits.
In a March 1991 ruling on the first suit, the Osaka District Court ordered 10 firms to pay 360 million yen in compensation to some of the plaintiffs but dismissed compensation demands on the state and the public corporation.
In July 1991 — just after the nine companies had settled — the Osaka court ordered the state and Hanshin Expressway to pay a total of 65 million yen to 18 ward residents for pollution-related illnesses. It was the first ruling linking auto emissions with health problems.
Of the country’s four major air-pollution disputes, residents in Chiba and Kurashiki, Okayama Prefecture, have settled their lawsuits; plaintiffs in Kawasaki have settled with corporate defendants but are still engaged in a dispute with the state.
Kimio Moriwaki, head of the plaintiffs, came out of the Osaka High Court shortly after 3:30 p.m. Wednesday and detailed the settlement to about 200 supporters outside the courthouse. Moriwaki said at a later news conference that air pollution from exhaust fumes has yet to end in this country, and “the first step toward regaining clear skies has just started.”
Among the plaintiffs in the four lawsuits, more than 200 people have already died, and many relatives appeared at the courthouse carrying photographs of the deceased.
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