Asbestos study reveals exceptionally high mortality rate, mesothelioma among women

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It was shocking enough to learn two years ago that dozens of workers had died of asbestos-related diseases at the former Kanzaki plant of Kubota Corp. in Amagasaki, Hyogo Prefecture.

Then came word that many residents living or who had lived near the plant were dying from asbestos-related mesothelioma.

There was worse to come.

In May of this year, the Environment Ministry issued its first report on the health hazard, resulting in another “Kubota shock.”

Survey results showed that the mortality rate for women who lived near factories in Amagasaki that used asbestos was an incredible 68.6 times the national average.

Factory risk

Amagasaki has a population of 460,000. As an industrial hub, the city experienced rapid growth in the early Showa Era (1926-1989), during which Japan experienced devastating war and vigorous economic recovery.

The former Kubota plant was located in the Oda district near JR Amagasaki Station, which sprawled 3.3 kilometers east to west, and 2.3 km north to south.

The district is a melange of factories, residential homes and commercial facilities. It is one of the city’s busiest commercial districts.

According to the government survey, the ratio of Amagasaki residents who died from mesothelioma from 2002 to 2004 was 14.5 times higher than the national average for women and 12.1 times higher for men.

The figures were especially high for residents living in the Oda district: 68.6 times the national average for women and 21.1 times that for men.

The figures for the Chuo district, neighboring Oda, were 18.3 times for women and 5.7 times for men. There was a marked tendency for the mortality rate to be higher in areas closest to the factory.

Mesothelioma is an extremely rare form of cancer that can take 40 years to develop after inhaling asbestos fibers. For people who have never been exposed to asbestos, the rate of infection is roughly one or two in 1 million.

The Environment Ministry survey covered some 180,000 people who were tracked down from address records. During the three-year period, 42 had succumbed to mesothelioma.

Doctors suspected that at least 10 deaths were caused by “environmental exposure”–inhaling asbestos particles through the general environment high in atmospheric asbestos concentration.

The fact that women, who rarely work in jobs that expose them to the toxic substance, and who live in the Oda district, had a high mortality rate strongly suggests that the general atmosphere was filled with deadly asbestos fibers.

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