• The Associated Press

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The government will begin an investigation into the spiraling number of asbestos contamination cases revealed in recent weeks, Chief Cabinet Secretary Hiroyuki Hosoda said Friday.

Some 405 people have been recognized by the government as having died from asbestos-related cancers in the five years through last March, according to figures released Friday.

Hosoda said officials will begin an investigation to determine whether others were also affected before and during that period.

“We need to investigate how extensive the damage is and how many people have been affected,” Hosoda told reporters, saying the government was committed to conducting an objective inquiry instead of finding excuses for what happened.

The government will come up with a response to the problem by September, and also intends to address how to prevent further contamination as older buildings are demolished and ways to implement a complete ban on asbestos, he said.

Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi said the government would take action to prevent more people from getting sick and urged close coordination between ministries and agencies. Asbestos is a mineral fiber that when broken down into dust is easily inhaled. The material was widely used as insulation and in roof tiles beginning in the 1910s.

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