The Tokyo District Court on Tuesday rejected a complaint filed by residents seeking a court order to halt the operation of the National Institute of Infectious Diseases in their neighborhood.
In the civil suit filed in 1989, the 281 residents also demanded that the institute, operating in the Toyama district of Tokyo’s Shinjuku Ward, be relocated, claiming the pathogens and other harmful substances emitted by the institute are a threat to their lives.
The facility, an affiliate of the Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry, is located in a densely populated residential area and researches numerous types of pathogens, including such deadly viruses and bacilli as HIV, tuberculosis, salmonella, botulin and the O-157 strain of E. coli.
The court, however, ruled that the plaintiffs’ claim is based only on their “subjective fear” of pathogens and lacks scientific evidence that proves the facility to be dangerous.
Noting that the lab has advanced equipment to contain pathogens, presiding Judge Satoru Fujimura said “the court sees no illegality in the facility’s operation, in light of current scientific knowledge.”
The defendant claimed that, according to its own standards, the laboratory is “absolutely safe,” even in the event of earthquakes and other disasters.
During the litigation, the plaintiffs claimed that guidelines drawn up by the World Health Organization in 1997 suggest that laboratories dealing with pathogens similar to those researched at NIID be built as far away as possible from residential areas.
The plaintiffs also argued that by emitting pathogens and chemical substances through its ventilators and exposing residents to contaminated air, the facility is in violation of another WHO guideline set in 1993 to regulate the operation of such labs.
The institute, however, claims that the WHO guidelines are not mandatory.
The plaintiffs’ lawyer, Shuichi Shimada, denounced the ruling as ignorant of the government’s responsibility to provide irrefutable proof that the facility is safe.
The plaintiffs expressed their will to appeal the case to the high court.
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