Blue asbestos fibers identical to that lining the walls of a stationery shop were found in the lungs of its former manager, who died of an asbestos-linked illness after working there for more than 30 years, it was learned Monday.
According to medical experts, it is the first case in Japan where someone has contracted a disease from asbestos exposure in a regular environment instead of at or around an industrial facility.
The man died at age 70 after suffering mesothelioma, and fibers of blue asbestos — considered extremely toxic — were found in his lungs.
A lawyer for his family said Monday in the city of Osaka they are seeking compensation from the company that managed the store.
The asbestos density in the shop’s air was much lower than at sites such as asbestos plants.
Yuji Natori, a doctor at a clinic in Koto Ward, Tokyo, that studied the case, said he estimated that in a similar environment only one in tens or hundreds of thousands of people may come down with a disease such as mesothelioma.
The man had run the stationery shop, located under the elevated tracks of a private railway, since 1969. The walls of the second floor of the building, which had served as a storage area, had been sprayed with a substance with a blue asbestos content of about 25 percent.
Although he usually worked on the first floor, he would spend about an hour to 90 minutes daily on the second floor, rummaging about for things that customers had ordered. The man had never lived in houses that used blue asbestos, and none was believed used near where he lived.
The man was diagnosed with malignant pleural mesothelioma in 2002 and died in 2004. An autopsy found an average of 72 asbestos bodies — asbestos fibers that have been coated with protein — per gram of lung. This is about double that of the average person, experts say.
When experts checked the air inside the second floor of the shop, the asbestos density was about five to 10 times that of normal air but still less than one-thousandth that of the air inside an asbestos plant.
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