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The Kobe District Court on Wednesday dismissed a lawsuit by residents of Hyogo Prefecture against Mitsui Engineering & Shipbuilding Co., ruling that the incinerator builder was not responsible for dioxin emissions from a waste disposal facility.

The 12 plaintiffs had demanded that the Tokyo-based Mitsui Engineering pay 370 million yen in compensation — part of the construction costs — to the operator of the facility. The company built two incinerators run by five towns in the Shiso area.

It is the first ruling on a case in which a maker’s responsibility for dioxin emissions from a garbage incineration facility was raised.

The plaintiffs said that because of structural defects, the Mitsui incinerators spewed more dioxin than any other incinerator in Japan.

In handing down the ruling, Presiding Judge Takeshi Mizuno said the facility was built in a way authorized by the then Health and Welfare Ministry and its possible danger could not have been perceived.

He also said that even if there had been structural defects, the plaintiffs had lost the right to make claims against Mitsui Engineering by the time they lodged the suit in September 1997, because plaintiffs are allowed to seek compensation only within five years after a facility is handed over to another party.

The plaintiffs plan to appeal the case to a higher court.

The facility, located in the town of Chikusa, began operation in 1990. It was closed down in April 1997 after the health ministry found in 1996 that it was emitting smoke containing 990 nanograms of dioxin per cubic meter. One nanogram is one-billionth of a gram.

The facility was reopened in April 1999, with only one incinerator operating, which was converted to turn waste into solid fuel.

The plaintiffs, who live near the facility, argued that Mitsui Engineering failed to explain to them the dangers of the facility, despite knowing that the incinerators would generate dioxin because of their design.

They filed the suit in September 1997, saying, “The facility was forced to stop operation after some seven years, instead of the planned 20 years. (Mitsui) should compensate at least 30 percent of the 1.23 billion yen in building costs.”

Mitsui Engineering argued that it had government authorization to build the facility when it received an order in 1987, and that it could not have foreseen the high levels of dioxin it would generate.

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