With one plaintiff coughing up phlegm as she testified, the first hearing of an appeal of a long-running air pollution suit got under way Thursday at the Tokyo High Court.

Meanwhile, a representative of the Tokyo Metropolitan Government, the only defendant that did not appeal the lower court ruling, told the court that the national government should take responsibility for the plaintiffs’ plight.

The lawsuit, featuring 99 plaintiffs, was initially filed in 1996, targeting the national government, the Tokyo Metropolitan Government, Metropolitan Expressway Public Corp. and seven diesel vehicle manufacturers.

The plaintiffs either suffer from respiratory ailments or are relatives of pollution victims who have died. They accuse the defendants of failing to institute preventative measures and technology to counter the pollution problem.

The plaintiffs are demanding that air quality in Tokyo be improved to acceptable levels; they are also asking for a total of 2.24 billion yen in compensation.

In statements read out at the court, the plaintiffs and their lawyers criticized last year’s Tokyo District Court ruling, which set conditions so strict that only narrow strips of the capital were considered heavily polluted.

They also criticized the ruling for failing to recognize the automakers’ liability for their health problems.

Yoshii Nakayama, 59, said she has suffered from asthma for almost 10 years since moving to her Adachi Ward apartment, located just three meters from Tokyo’s “Kan-nana” No. 7 loop road.

Nakayama, who kept coughing up phlegm during her testimony, said that although she lost her job due to her health, she was not recognized as a victim because the traffic volume on the section of the loop road in front of her house happened to be below 40,000 vehicles during the hours when it was inspected.

The lower court ruling, which recognized only seven out of the 99 plaintiffs living or working within 50 meters of arterial roads as air pollution victims, defined these roads as those with daytime traffic volume above 40,000 vehicles.

“I took all bad things in life as fate, but this one isn’t fate,” Nakayama said. “There is clearly a cause to my disease.”

Three similar lawsuits have been filed since the original suit was filed in 1996, raising the number of people suing the same defendants to 518.

Junji Nishi, leader of the original plaintiffs, said: “Seventy-four out of the 518 plaintiffs have already died due to respiratory diseases and combined symptoms. One threw himself in front of a train in despair for his health. The lower court ruling that acknowledged only a limited number of victims is clearly incorrect.”

The plaintiffs accused the automakers of failing to equip their vehicles with pollution-prevention equipment, even though this equipment was available and installed in some vehicles shipped to overseas markets.

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