The government plans to introduce a bill that will give financial aid to people with asbestos-related mesothelioma and the next of kin of those who have died from the disease, sources said Monday.

In light of how widespread asbestos-linked diseases are, the government will give financial aid to most of the people who have mesothelioma, a type of cancer whose major cause is exposure to asbestos, and their families, even if the link between the disease and toxic fiber is not clear, the sources said.

The government is also considering lump-sum payments for ailing business owners.

Some of the money would come from state coffers and the government would ask industries involved in asbestos use, including automakers and shipbuilders, to put up the rest, the sources said.

Because symptoms of mesothelioma do not appear for decades, the government decided it was necessary for it to put up some of the compensation money because in some cases, the firms responsible for the asbestos use have gone out of business.

Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi and Takenori Kanzaki, head of New Komeito, the junior member of the ruling coalition, met Monday and agreed to make an all-out effort to address the asbestos problem.

The planned law on asbestos relief is expected to include lump-sum payments totaling several million yen for families of workers and people who lived near firms using asbestos who died of mesothelioma, and payments of medical fees and monthly benefits to people living with the disease, the sources said.

The law’s main aim would be to provide relief to sufferers and is not being viewed as a form of compensation to next of kin of those who have died.

But the families of workers who died from the disease after the five-year limit on labor compensation expired would be given lump-sum payments and pensions, the sources said.

Because 70 percent to 80 percent of people with mesothelioma are believed to have contracted it from exposure to asbestos, the government will give aid to any patient or surviving kin even if there is no clear asbestos link, the sources said.

Asbestos can also cause lung cancer, a much more common disease, but the causal link is difficult to establish.

Government officials said the Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry will work with the Environment Ministry after the new law is enacted to draw up standards to help determine whether a lung-cancer case is caused by asbestos.

Companies that have used asbestos, including automakers and shipbuilders, would be asked to partially fund the project, the sources said.

Found in 19 products

A government survey in August covering more than 20,000 firms making household appliances and other consumer goods shows that 19 products being made by 14 firms contain asbestos.

The makers said there was no airborne diffusion of the fibrous cancer-causing material for 18 of the 19 items.

The 18 products include a Yamaha Motor Co. electrical vehicle, refrigerators by Hitachi Home & Life Solutions Inc. and Mitsubishi Electric Corp., and a Takara Standard Co. electric water heater. Bridgestone Cycle Co. is checking to see if one of its bikes also poses no airborne risk.

The last is a Bridgestone Cycle Co. bicycle.

Bridgestone Cycle Co. said it has been investigating that possibility for the remaining product — a bicycle equipped with hand brakes containing asbestos, the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry said Monday.

The probe also found that 502 household items produced by 118 firms in the past contained asbestos. But officials at METI said no reports of health damage have been received.

Of the 502, two products — ashes sold with electric hibachis sold by Noritake Co. and gas hibachis sold by Osaka Gas Co. up to 1966 — included asbestos. Those companies said users of the hibachis may have been exposed to the substance released in the air, METI officials said.

Makers of five other items, including Toshiba Home Technology Corp., which made hair dryers, and Daiken Denki Co., which made electric heaters, said they’ve also been looking into the possibility of airborne asbestos diffusion.

Asbestos is known to cause mesothelioma and lung cancer even many years after being inhaled.

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