Six former workers of a garbage incineration facility in Nose, Osaka Prefecture, which is blamed for the nation’s worst dioxin contamination, filed a lawsuit Friday against the central and local governments, demanding compensation for damaged health. The suit filed with the Osaka District Court is also targeted against four firms involved in the facility’s operation, including Mitsui Engineering and Shipbuilding Co., which built the incinerator at the Toyono Clean Center in the town. The compensation sought by the plaintiffs amounts to 530 million yen. It is the first full-scale legal action in Japan against the central government over its responsibility for health damage caused by dioxin. The plaintiffs claimed a negligent administration did not stop pollution problems in the facility and caused them to suffer serious health damage. They said the government failed to meet its responsibility to take measures to check dioxin emissions immediately after the Health and Welfare Ministry inspected the facility in 1994 and proposed tighter emission control steps. They also claimed the incinerator had fundamental defects, and hold the firms involved in its operation and construction liable. The six workers, including Mitsuo Takeoka, 68, and Katsuo Hatanaka, 61, both from Nose, performed such jobs at the facility as operating a crane to pack waste into the incinerator and mixing waste created by the incinerator together with cement. One of the six people worked at the facility for 11 years, and Takeoka and Hatanaka claimed that their work at the plant caused them cancer and skin problems. The incinerator began operations in 1988 but was closed in 1997 after it was found to be releasing dioxin at levels much higher than government safety standards. Soon after it ceased operation, surrounding soil was found to contain up to 8,500 picograms of dioxin per gram. A picogram is one-trillionth of a gram. Blood tests also showed that former employees at the incinerator have elevated levels of dioxin between 27 and 40 times higher than average. The incinerator is now being dismantled, but a number of local residents have been calling for the government’s arbitration in seeking compensation, or have filed damage suits against the firms involved in the building and operation of the facility. Hatanaka said he hopes his legal battle will prevent further dioxin contamination in the country. The plaintiffs’ lawyers said that while dioxin contamination can pose a serious threat to human lives in the future, its emissions have yet to be closely monitored, and they hope Friday’s lawsuit will raise public awareness of the issue.
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