In the first high court ruling on a damages suit filed by former construction workers over illnesses caused by exposure to asbestos, the Tokyo High Court last week ordered the government and four building material makers to pay compensation to 62 plaintiffs. In so doing, it overturned a lower court decision that cleared both the government and the firms of liability. Nine years have passed since the first of a series of lawsuits was filed by former construction workers. Given the extent of the health damage from asbestos sustained by construction workers, the government should craft a new program to provide relief to the victims, many of whom are aging and ailing.

Asbestos is a mineral consisting of fibers whose diameters is about one-five thousandths that of a human hair. Due to its low cost and heat-resistant nature, it was widely used in building material during Japan’s postwar period of rapid economic growth. But it came to be known that the inhalation of asbestos dust can cause lung cancer or mesothelioma. Health damage from asbestos is often likened to a time bomb because the incubation period of the diseases caused by asbestos can last for decades. Victims usually die several years after the symptoms emerge. From fiscal 2012 to 2016, about 5,000 workers were recognized as victims of occupational hazards caused by exposure to asbestos. About half were construction workers who worked with building materials containing asbestos.

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