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Court-mediated talks to settle damage suits filed by some 630 Tokyoites suffering from air pollution-induced asthma are nearing a final stage. In the damage suits they sought a total of 14.8 billion yen from the central government, the Tokyo Metropolitan Government, the Metropolitan Expressway Co. and seven makers of diesel vehicles. The Tokyo High Court is to present a settlement plan Friday. Although the automakers are ready to pay “settlement money,” the plaintiffs consider the informally indicated amount too small. It is hoped that the automakers will adopt a flexible approach to make the mediation process successful.

In October 2002, the Tokyo District Court ruled that seven of the original 99 plaintiffs had developed asthma from breathing in diesel exhaust. Although it ordered the central government, the predecessor of the expressway company and the Tokyo Metropolitan Government to pay 79 million yen in damages, it decided that the automakers had no responsibility because they have no power to control the traffic flow of vehicles. Last September, the Tokyo High Court recommended that all the parties reach a settlement.

In November, the metropolitan government proposed setting up a health-care aid system, which will require about 20 billion yen over five years, with the central and metropolitan governments each shouldering one-third of the cost and the expressway company and the automakers each one-sixth of the cost. The central government, which had refused to pay compensation and to apologize, has changed its stance and offered to pay 6 billion yen. It has also promised measures to alleviate traffic congestions and bolster efforts to measure air quality. The expressway company has offered to pay 500 million yen.

The amount unofficially offered by the automakers is reported to translate into less than 1 million yen per person, less than the standard 5 million yen to 7 million yen in past air pollution cases. They have no legal obligation to pay the money. But a generous payment would help give an impetus to movement for a cleaner environment. The government must strengthen regulation of particulate matters from diesel engines.

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