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Kubota apologizes for asbestos
President announces aid package for nearby residents

AMAGASAKI, Hyogo Pref. (Kyodo) - Dec. 26, 2005 - The president of major machinery manufacturer Kubota Corp. apologized Sunday to people suffering from asbestos-linked diseases who live near one of the firm's asbestos factories.

Kubota Corp.'s now-defunct Kanzaki factory in Amagasaki, Hyogo Prefecture, lies adjacent to a residential area.

While Kubota President Daisuke Hatakake, meeting with the residents, did not clearly acknowledge the causal relationship between its factory and their illnesses, he said he feels a moral responsibility for their plight, according to the residents.

They added that Hatakake promised to set up a new compensation regime for residents similar to that for Kubota employees by April after listening to their views on the matter. The roughly one-hour meeting -- the first between Hatakake and residents and family members of those who have since died -- was closed to the media.

The apology and pledge for a new compensation framework may affect other companies which have used asbestos, observers said.

The residents lived near Kubota's Kanzaki factory, which was in operation between 1954 and 1997. It manufactured such products as sewer pipes that contained asbestos.

Records show it used some 9 tons of blue asbestos, believed to be the most toxic form of the substance, between 1957 and 1975.

Of the 251 employees involved in producing the pipes for more than a decade, roughly half have been diagnosed with asbestos-linked diseases such as mesothelioma, and 61 have died.

At Sunday's meeting, Hatakake was quoted as saying it "cannot be denied" that asbestos fibers might have escaped from the factory premises. However, he said the causal relationship between that and mesothelioma has not been fully confirmed.

He bowed in apology anyway, saying: "We did not fully recognize the risks. I feel moral responsibility as an operator (of such a facility)," according to the residents.

Speaking at a news conference later in the day, Hatakake acknowledged that it was unprecedented to take such actions without recognizing a causal relationship.

"We have to do something about the reality that is right in front of our eyes," he said, adding that the company could not spend more time on the compensation issue given the situation facing patients and their families.

The company currently has a system under which people living near the factory who are mesothelioma patients and bereaved families can receive 2 million yen in sympathy money and condolence money. As of Thursday, 70 people had applied for the money and payments have been made to 46 of them, according to the firm.

Kubota revealed in late June that scores of former workers at the plant fell ill. It was later discovered that residents living near the factory were suffering an abnormally high rate of asbestos-related maladies.

This also triggered a series of announcements from firms and municipalities nationwide of disease sufferers and previously unconfirmed asbestos use.

The government is planning to submit to the ordinary Diet session that begins next month a bill to help victims of asbestos-related diseases.

If enacted, the families of employees and residents currently receiving medical treatment will be given roughly 100,000 yen per month in addition to the portion of the medical costs they shoulder. Families of victims who have already died will be given a lump sum of 3 million yen. For families unable to apply for workers' compensation due to the statute of limitations, the government will pay pensions of 2.4 million yen a year.

Death exposes cancer in women

Most nonsmoking victims, like Dana Reeve, are female

By Wendy Harris
Post-Crescent staff writer

March 12, 2006 - When lung cancer claims a life, it's easy to assume smoking was the cause. But as Dana Reeve's death last week has reminded us, a portion of lung cancer patients never smoked, and they are disproportionately women.

"There is the 13 percent who get lung cancer who are nonsmokers, and she fell into that 13 percent," said Dona Wininsky, spokeswomen for the American Lung Association of Wisconsin.

Reeve was known for supporting and caring for her late actor husband, Christopher Reeve, who became paralyzed after falling off a horse in 1995. He died in 2004. The couple worked to raise awareness and research money for spinal cord injuries.

Reeve's death now is helping bring attention to the fact that lung cancer is the No. 1 cancer killer among women.

"It's always sad when it takes a celebrity to die, when we've known this for years and years," said Dr. Edie Krueger, a radiation oncologist with the Martha Siekman Cancer Center at Appleton Medical Center. "Since the 1980s, lung cancer deaths among women have surpassed breast cancer deaths and it's because of all those women who took up smoking the decade or two before."

For reasons unknown, women make up the majority of lung cancer cases in nonsmokers, Krueger said.

"The lung cancer cases that are unrelated to smoking are disproportionately women by two to one," she said. "All the people I've encountered in my career who had lung cancer unrelated to smoking were women.

"I believe it is a biological, genetic or hormonal reason that we don't understand."

The incidence of lung cancer in American women has more than doubled over the past three decades, from about 20 cases per 100,000 women in 1973, to 50 per 100,000 women, Wininsky said.

Though men still have higher rates of lung cancer, their numbers have been consistently declining.

In 1987, lung cancer surpassed breast cancer for the first time. And unlike breast cancer, lung cancer has a very low survival rate. The five-year survival rate for lung cancer is about 15 percent, she said.

The American Cancer Society has been working to better understand nonsmoking-related lung cancer, said Corey Miller, the agency's Wisconsin spokesman.

"Right now, we can't fully explain or understand it, but it is an issue we are aware of and continue to research," Miller said.

Russ Hinz, chief operating officer of the society's Midwest division, said that known risk factors that may affect nonsmokers include exposure to secondhand smoke and radon, as well as occupational exposure to asbestos and certain chemicals and metals.

"Genetic susceptibility is thought to play a greater role in people who develop lung cancer at an early age," Hinz said a news release.

Wininsky noted that Reeve was exposed to secondhand smoke earlier in her career as a singer.

"She was a singer for many years and spent a number of years working in smoky bars and clubs," she said. "It's certainly something to consider."

Student moved out after asbestos found
By Anna Stewart

A finalist at Wadham was moved out of her room during the vacation due to a disruption of dangerous asbestos. The student, Antonia Fitzpatrick, situated on the front quad, had been given permission to study in college over the holiday before being forced to evacuate her accommodation in 10th week.

Despite a college spokesperson stated, “it was only white asbestos, it isn’t harmful”, the HSE (Health and Safety Executive) have confirmed that it is a major health hazard, telling The Oxford Student: “All asbestos can cause cancer and the vast bulk of scientific evidence in the UK and abroad regards the risk from white asbestos as proven.” The college failed to inform the student of the risk posed by the asbestos and was late in removing her from the room.

Fitzpatrick told said, “The asbestos men simply turned up and remarked that I wasn’t supposed to be around and that I should have been told to move already.” While the college refuses to acknowledge on the potential risks that the asbestos caused, HSE are concerned by the evident lack of caution. A spokesperson from HSE remarked, “This is not good, something should have been done to prevent the student from being there”.

Under the Reporting of Injuries, Diseases and Dangerous Occurrences Regulations of 1995 (RIDDOR), the college was compelled to report the asbestos to the Incidental Contact Centre. Yet evacuation procedures were poorly organised and may have resulted in student exposure to a dangerous substance. A college spokesperson refused to comment on the risks posed by the incident simply stating that ‘It’s now fine’.

20th Apr 2006

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