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MORIOKA, Iwate Pref. (Kyodo ) The Morioka District Court on Friday ordered four companies to pay some 174 million yen in damages to 14 former miners who contracted black lung disease while working in Iwate Prefecture from 1939 to 1979.

Presiding Judge Isao Kurisu said the companies, including Tokyo-based Nittetsu Mining Co., did not take sufficient measures to prevent the victims from developing the disease even though they were obliged to take such measures.

The plaintiffs, including the families of six deceased miners, had demanded the companies pay a combined 440 million yen in damages.

Initially, 14 former workers filed suits against the firms, but the court rejected a claim by one of them, citing the expiry of the statute of limitations.

The companies claimed they had taken measures to prevent the workers from developing the disease and hearing difficulties. Black lung disease has been one of the most widespread work-related illnesses in Japan.

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