Ministries to urge 18 industry groups to end use of asbestos

The government, seeking to prevent further illnesses caused by asbestos, will urge 18 industry organizations to immediately stop using the toxic material and switch to safer substitutes, officials said Wednesday.

The Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry and the Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare will make the request by the end of this week.

The industry groups include influential organizations, such as the Japan Iron and Steel Federation and the Federation of Electric Power Companies of Japan.

The government plans to completely ban the use of asbestos in 2008 by revising the Industrial Safety and Health Law. But the ministries decided to ask the industry groups to take early measures in light of the recent series of reports about workers dying from asbestos-related diseases.

Asbestos was widely used as an insulator and a fire-resistant strengthener. Its use was partly prohibited in 1995, when highly toxic crocidolite, or blue asbestos, and amosite were banned.

Last year, the use of all forms of asbestos, including chrysotile, was banned in principle.

But some exceptions were made at industrial plants and facilities that had difficulty finding substitute material.

Those facilities include chemical plants and piping systems of electric power plants.

A survey by the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry revealed that 374 workers at 27 companies that produced asbestos products died of asbestos-related illness, such as lung cancer.

Health problems related to asbestos have spread to industries other than building-material manufacturers. Worker deaths have also been reported by companies in the shipbuilder, auto, construction and steel industries.

On Tuesday, officials of the Japan Iron and Steel Federation told reporters that at least 14 workers at five steelmakers died of mesothelioma, a lung cancer caused by asbestos, and other asbestos-related diseases in the past 10 years.

Their illnesses were officially acknowledged as work-related and covered under the Workers' Accident Compensation Insurance.

Other major industry groups that will be asked to halt the use of asbestos are: the Japan Electrical Manufacturers' Association; the Japan Chemical Industry Association; the Petroleum Association of Japan; the Japan Gas Association; the Flat Glass Manufacturers Association of Japan; and the Japan Society of Industry Machinery Manufacturers.

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