NAGOYA – A 12-year court battle over air pollution from factory smoke and exhaust gas in Nagoya ended Monday with the national government pledging to take antipollution measures and companies promising to pay about 1.52 billion yen in compensation to local residents.
|Yasuhisa Tamegai (right) talks with reporters.|
The settlement, announced by the plaintiffs at a news conference Monday, ends the last pending major legal battle over factory smoke in Japan, which became a serious problem in the 1970s as a result of rapid industrial development.
About 260 people officially recognized as suffering diseases related to air pollution had sued 10 companies and the national government in three groups, seeking a total of 8.2 billion yen in compensation. The first was filed in 1989.
Under the settlement, the firms will pay compensation totaling 1.52 billion yen to the plaintiffs, and the victims will drop their compensation claim against the government.
The 10 companies are Chubu Electric Power Co., Nippon Steel Corp., Toray Industries Inc., Aichi Steel Corp., Daido Steel Co., Mitsui Chemicals Inc., Toho Gas Co., Toagosei Co., Nichiha Corp. and Chubu Steel Plate Co.
The firms will disclose publicly the amount of pollutants emitted from their plants, which they currently submit only to relevant municipalities.
Neither the government nor the companies acknowledged a causal relationship between air pollution and health damage to residents living along busy roads, a point in the suits.
However, the Land, Infrastructure and Transport Ministry pledged to take antipollution measures such as monitoring traffic volume on National Highway Route 23 to study possible lane reductions to curtail traffic, monitoring air quality, and installing green belts and soundproof walls to improve living conditions for residents.
The Environment Ministry will take measures to reduce exhaust gas, such as promoting more environment-friendly cars, introducing emission controls on diesel-powered vehicles and stepping up a campaign against the idling of engines. It will offer medical checkups for Nagoya residents.
The final settlement, which covers all the plaintiffs, was reached after the Nagoya District Court ruled in November that there was a causal relationship between residents’ respiratory illnesses and the amount of sulfur dioxide in the air in southern Nagoya from 1961 to 1978.
The court ordered the 10 firms to pay 289 million yen to 110 plaintiffs, who are among the 260 people covered in Monday’s agreement. Both the residents and the defendants have appealed the November ruling.
The district court also ordered the government to take measures to reduce vehicle exhaust emissions with targets for the hazardous components of exhaust, and to pay 18 million yen in compensation.
It determined some residents living near Route 23 suffered bronchial asthma as a result of hazardous exhaust emissions and that the condition of existing asthma patients worsened after the highway fully opened in 1972.
Land, Infrastructure and Transport Minister Chikage Ogi released a statement that the government decided to settle the case with the aging plaintiffs even though it does not “accept” a causal relationship between exhaust gas and damage to the residents’ health.
Environment Minister Yoriko Kawaguchi welcomed the settlement, saying the plaintiffs, who had suffered from diseases for a long time, made a “brave decision” to drop claims against the government.
Both Ogi and Kawaguchi pledged further antipollution measures to improve the environment along the highway.
Mitsuo Kato, a leading lawyer for the plaintiffs, criticized court procedures for being too slow, calling them “unbearable judicial negligence and dual human rights violations for the victims.”
“The settlement does not make the air clean. The real work lies ahead,” said Keiko Kamei, 63, a resident of Nagoya’s Minami Ward, who lost her husband, Masao, in 1994.
He suffered chronic bronchitis in 1970 and vesicular emphysema in 1987.
In the last several years of his life, he had to use on oxygen inhaler.
More than six years after his death, the Nagoya District Court awarded damages to the first group of plaintiffs, including him.
“I know a number of plaintiffs who died after the ruling. I have wished (that the parties) reach a settlement as early as possible,” his widow said.
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