OSAKA — Two former workers at an incinerator in Nose, Osaka Prefecture, applied Friday for work-related damages, claiming their illnesses were caused by exposure to high levels of dioxin at the facility.
This is the first attempt in the country to seek recognition of a labor accident caused by dioxin. The pair filed their damages applications with the Yodogawa Labor Standards Inspection Office here.
Studies had already identified the incinerator, Toyono Clean Center, as that with the highest level of dioxin contamination in the country. The incinerator is to be dismantled next month.
Mitsuo Takeoka, 67, who worked at the incinerator for eight years since it started operating in 1988, said he was diagnosed with colon cancer in 1997, one year after leaving the job.
He had to undergo surgery twice to remove cancerous growths, he said.
When at the facility, he operated a crane to dump garbage into the incinerator and checked incinerator meters.
Katsuo Hatanaka, 61, was in charge of encasing the concentrated ash in cement for nine years between 1989 and last March.
For the past three years, he has suffered from pigmentary deposits and acnelike dermatitis on his face and legs.
His dermatitis was recently diagnosed as chloracne, acne caused by organic chlorine compounds.
Dioxin is known to cause cancer and chloracne.
Workers at the facility wore ordinary work clothes and were not protected from exposure to toxic materials. No special care had been taken to prevent inhalation of toxic particles, they said.
Independent blood tests on Takeoka and Hatanaka showed last month that their blood fat contained 16 times the amount of dioxin normally found in human blood fat.
A group of lawyers is preparing to file a suit against the local government and the maker of the incinerator on behalf of several facility workers, including the two, demanding compensation for damages to their health.
They also submitted a paper asking the government to set up a new system that would help those who are exposed to dioxin on the job.
It says current health checks are inadequate. Long-term detailed checks and advice are necessary as well as a new system that would include compensation.
The incinerator stopped operating in June 1997 after it was revealed that the dioxin concentration of its smoke emissions exceeded the Health and Welfare Ministry-set level of 80 nanograms per cubic meter.
Takeoka says he remembers tiny pieces of ash floating like cigarette smoke in the facility while he was working. It felt like biting sand in his mouth, he said.
Hatanaka said he hopes the working environment at incinerators across the country will be improved.
The link between the damages to their health and their duties at the facility has yet to be established, and this lack of confirmation may affect their claim for work-related damages.
Hideaki Miyata, a professor of pharmacology at Setsunan University in Osaka who examined the pair’s blood, said chloracne is similar to symptoms caused by polychlorinated biphenyl and dioxin, which are carcinogenic.
“But it is difficult to pinpoint the cause of the illnesses of the two. Large-scale research at other facilities is required to accumulate data, and that will show whether their illness and dioxin are linked,” Miyata said.