In March, bereaved families of workers who used to work at an offset printing company in Osaka applied for workers’ accident compensation. The application revealed that more than a few workers at the company had suffered bile duct cancer. So far, it has been found that 12 workers of the company have suffered the cancer and that six of them have died.

There have been other cases reported. Two printing workers in Miyagi Prefecture were found to have the cancer. They also applied for workers’ accident compensation. Three more printing workers suffered the cancer, one each in Tokyo and Ishikawa and Shizuoka prefectures. The Tokyo and Ishikawa workers are already dead.

The possibility has been raised that organic solvents used in large quantities to remove ink from printing machines may have caused the cancer. It has been pointed out that at the Osaka and Miyagi companies, ventilation of the indoor work areas was not sufficient. Printing company executives should closely examine the conditions of their work areas and immediately take necessary measures to minimize harm to workers.

There is a strong possibility that poor working conditions caused bile duct cancer among printing workers. For example, a worker at the Osaka facility said the work area was filled with a pungent odor from organic solvents and that he had never seen protective masks used there. It also surfaced that the company had no health supervisor and no industrial physician, both required under the Industrial Safety and Health Law.

A survey of 561 printing firms by the health and welfare ministry showed that 383 of them, or about 70 percent, failed to take sufficient cautionary measures to protect the health of workers, including a failure to install proper ventilation systems.

Across the nation, there are about 17,000 printing companies. It is imperative that the ministry make sure that these companies and all other companies, for that matter, faithfully follow the regulations designed to protect workers against harm from poisonous or carcinogenic substances. It also should tell the companies to sincerely heed workers’ opinions on their working conditions.

Health and welfare minister Yoko Komiyama has expressed the view that the damage to the health of printing workers is not widespread. But her remarks sound careless. Her ministry should make earnest efforts to find out the entire picture of the health conditions of printing workers, including immediately launching an epidemiological survey to scientifically determine what is behind the rise in bile duct cancer cases among the workers.

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