The government offered vows of action and a denial Thursday after revelations the previous day that officials knew nearly 30 years ago of the serious health hazards of asbestos.
Chief Cabinet Secretary Hiroyuki Hosoda said the government should have taken measures against asbestos back in the 1970s when it learned of the danger asbestos poses to health.
“As we look back now, given that many victims have been discovered, I think it would have been better if we had taken stronger steps,” he told reporters.
The government admitted Wednesday it had known at least as far back as 1976 of the danger of asbestos-linked illnesses spreading not only among asbestos-plant workers but also to their families and nearby residents.
Hosoda said the government will consider offering compensation to people who have asbestos-related diseases or to relatives of those who have died if it is clear the government is responsible.
“The ministries will have to closely coordinate and deal with (the asbestos issue) based on the problems of the past,” Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi told reporters at his office.
However, later Thursday, vice health minister Toshikazu Togari told a news conference the government took every possible measure back in the 1970s.
“We know that how we dealt with the issue was not a failure, but we will have to check whether we had any problems with cooperation between government ministries,” Togari said.
The health and trade ministries decided the same day to move up the total ban on asbestos. They originally had planned to completely ban the material in 2008.
Hosoda said the government would upgrade its cross-ministry task force on the issue from division-chief level to bureau-chief level when the task force met later in the day.
The task force will discuss how to get a clear picture of the problem as quickly as possible and how to deal with it, including promoting health counseling and checkups, and alternative products to those containing asbestos, he said.
Asbestos has been banned since 2004, except in some products where there are no alternatives, including in pipes, insulation for power distribution panels and sealing materials for chemical plants.
The Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry and the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry decided in a joint meeting Thursday morning to urge 20 industry groups to stop using asbestos as quickly as possible.
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