• Kyodo

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The risk of dying from mesothelioma, a rare type of cancer linked to asbestos, is 9.5 times higher than the national average among people who lived within 500 meters of a now-defunct Kubota Corp. asbestos plant in Amagasaki, Hyogo Prefecture, a professor said Saturday.

Norio Kurumatani of Nara Medical University, an expert on industrial epidemiology, also said the risk is 4.7 times higher than the national average among residents living between 500 meters and 1 km from the plant.

“The closer people lived to the plant, the higher risk they carry of dying” from mesothelioma, he said.

Kurumatani and his fellow researchers began studying the health problems of residents near the plant after the asbestos debacle came to light in late June, when Kubota announced that 79 of its employees had died of illnesses believed linked to asbestos.

They interviewed current mesothelioma patients and relatives of people who died about where they have lived and their line of work. They tracked down the interviewees through a labor safety consultation center in Osaka.

Kurumatani’s team determined that of the 55 patients who lived close to the Kubota plant, 46 contracted the disease after inhaling asbestos fiber that had drifted on the air from the plant to nearby areas.

Forty-one of the 46 patients have died — 15 of them before 2000 and the remaining 26 since 2000.

Of those who died since 2000, six lived within 500 meters of the plant and the rest further away.

According to Kurumatani, an average of about 880 people die of mesothelioma each year throughout Japan.

The average number of deaths from mesothelioma over the past six years in a circular area with a radius of 500 meters is 0.63. The six deaths in the area within 500 meters of the Amagasaki plant since 2000 means the risk is 9.5 times higher than the national average, Kurumatani said.

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