• Kyodo

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Five former Japanese workers at a U.S. naval base in Kanagawa Prefecture and the next of kin of six others filed a suit against the state Monday, demanding compensation for lung problems contracted due to insufficient workplace health safety measures.

The five former employees, aged between 75 and 85, and 10 relatives of six others who have died, are demanding a combined 230 million yen in damages in the suit filed with the Yokosuka branch of the Yokohama District Court.

The plaintiffs claimed they and the deceased developed pneumoconiosis from inhaling large amounts of asbestos dust while working on ship-building and repairs as well as sheet metal work from the immediate postwar period up to the 1980s.

The third such lawsuit, those involved are claiming the central government, in its capacity as employer, failed to ensure measures were taken at the base to counter the negative effects of asbestos on health until around 1980.

The asbestos was used as a heat insulator and fire retardant.

Last October, the court’s Yokosuka branch ordered the government to pay 231 million yen in compensation to nine former workers at the base and the next of kin of three others, saying the state had not thoroughly examined the U.S. Navy’s safety measures.

It was the first court ruling on a damages suit involving development of pneumoconiosis at a U.S. military facility in Japan, raising questions about where the responsibility lies for securing the safety of employees hired by the government but working for the U.S. military.

In May, however, the Tokyo High Court dismissed the lower court ruling for three of the former workers, including one of the deceased, because their 10-year rights to claim compensation had expired before the Yokosuka branch’s decision.

An additional 22 former employees at the base filed a similar suit in May seeking some 490 million yen in compensation from the government.