The government was aware that inhaling even a small amount of asbestos could cause mesothelioma, an incurable cancer, more than a decade before Japan started to curb asbestos use in 1989, according to a 1978 report by a labor ministry expert panel obtained by Kyodo News.

It was also found that a female mesothelioma patient who was probably infected because she lived near an asbestos factory was reported in an academic conference in Japan in 1982 and in an academic publication the next year.

The findings suggest the government failed to take appropriate measures to protect workers and their families or residents near asbestos plants despite being well aware of the health risks.

The government finally announced a plan earlier this month to slap a blanket ban on asbestos use by 2008, after reports surfaced recently about hundreds of asbestos-linked deaths.

“It was already known among experts back then that even exposure for a short period of time and small amounts of asbestos can cause mesothelioma,” said Sugio Furuya, head of a national liaison on labor safety and health issues.

“The government’s failure to take measures for nearby residents and workers’ families despite knowing the health hazards was a result of the turf-minded bureaucracy in the labor, health and environment ministries,” Furuya said.

The report was compiled by the old Labor Ministry, now the Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry, in September 1978.

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