A Look at Japan’s Struggle to Ban Asbestos

While more than 50 countries have banned asbestos, many developed nations like the United States, Canada and Japan continue to use and/or mine the material today. While BAN! is based in the United States, Japan has gained coverage recently for the country’s comprehensive efforts to stop the importation and mining of the material in Asia. Many of the processes and struggles in Japan’s fight to ban asbestos mirror those in the U.S.

As the number of deaths resulting from asbestos-related diseases grew in the 1990’s, a Japanese activist group brought to light the health hazards of occupational asbestos exposure and pushed the government to halt the use of asbestos nationally. The Japanese government banned asbestos imports later that decade, but strangely, groups like JapanFocus.org have reported recently that there is mounting evidence that Japan is still importing and using the deadly fiber today.

Much of the controversy stems from the belief that Japan does not have the measures in place to identify the banned forms of asbestos fibers or quantify the amount of the material present in asbestos-containing products. Like the United States, Japan has had a large number of mesothelioma lawsuits filed by victims who developed health conditions as a result of asbestos exposure. Now, the BAN! landscape in Japan is mired with groups including scientists, politicians, lawyers, manufacturers and lobbyists who are all jockeying to create and enforce laws pertaining to asbestos safety and usage.

While some say that Japan currently risks losing credibility as a pioneering, asbestos-free nation, the fact that this is a national, well-known issue is encouraging in itself. Additionally, many countries like the U.S. that have not banned asbestos could learn from some of Japan’s struggles.

Like Japan, the regulation of toxic chemicals in America is a complex issue that’s slow-moving and difficult to navigate. There are various lobbyists and special interest groups representing corporations and victims alike. Consistent research and safety standards seem to be difficult to agree on.

And, unfortunately, while both countries are aware of the dangers of asbestos, neither has been able to take the necessary steps to ban the material. This makes it all the more important for people to take action, make their voices heard and urge Congress to BAN! today.