Researchers found out at least 19 years ago that a woman who lived near an asbestos factory died of cancer following exposure to the carcinogenic substance, according to academic papers presented in 1986.
The Osaka woman, who died at age 69, developed mesothelioma, a form of cancer whose only known cause is asbestos, and the researchers found asbestos in her lungs, the records show.
The researchers included experts from the government-affiliated National Institute of Industrial Health.
Health risks to residents near asbestos plants were reported overseas in the 1960s. It is believed that the former Labor Ministry and the Environment Agency were aware of the potential hazards by the late 1970s.
The disclosure suggests the ministry and the agency may have failed to make use of significant information made available by the institute, which was affiliated with the Labor Ministry, and consequently failed to take prompt action for residents living near factories where asbestos was used.
“We want to make a through examination of what administrative actions have been taken by listening to what officials then in charge have to say,” said an official at the Environment Ministry, the successor to the Environment Agency.
An official at the Health, Welfare and Labor Ministry said relevant documents will be examined.
According to published papers presented at a meeting of the Japan Society of Occupational Health in Hiroshima in 1986, the researchers analyzed lung tissue from 16 mesothelioma patients to see if there were any links with their history of asbestos exposure.
Of these, asbestos was found in the Osaka woman and 14 other patients.
The woman lived near an asbestos factory for around nine years beginning at age 30. It was “believed to be an example of neighborhood exposure,” the paper states.
It does not include detailed information on where the woman lived.
Besides this woman, a 70-year-old male surgeon was cited in the paper as a case of “possible environmental exposure” to asbestos, though the specific circumstances were not included.
The case of the Osaka woman was also presented in a 1987 academic publication overseen by the Environment Agency’s Air Quality Bureau.
“A housewife who lived near a factory for nine years died of mesothelioma at the age of 69 and asbestos was found in her lungs,” the study says.
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