Asbestos Godzilla Threatens Tokyo

The Japanese government was late in banning asbestos; such a ban did not go into effect until 2006, and asbestos-related cancers are still disturbingly common in that country. The problem now is that some asbestos has been overlooked–and like the legendary monster that rose out of the sea to destroy Tokyo in science fiction films of the 1950s, a three-headed asbestos creature is now threatening the health and well-being of the Japanese public.
As readers and frequent visitors to are well aware, there are two recognized forms of asbestos–chrysotile and amphibole. Although both kinds are harmful to respiratory health, the latter kind is particularly deadly, and associated with the rapid onset of mesothelioma as the hard, needle-like fibers burrow through lung tissue from the inside out. However, until now Japanese health authorities had believed that three types of amphibole asbestos had never been used in that country.

They were wrong; during inspections around the country in 2005 and 2006, most government health authorities confined their search for chrysotile, amosite and crocidolite, the three most commonly used varieties of asbestos. They failed to look for tremolite–a common contaminant in an insulation material marketed by the U.S.-based W. R. Grace & Company–as well as the rarely-used actinolite and anthophyllite. All three of these deadly amphiboles have been detected in eight public buildings located in the Yokohama, Chuo, and Niigata wards of Tokyo, according to the Yomiuru Shimbun, an online Japanese newspaper.

These eight buildings include nursery schools. In fact, 53 percent of the insulation sprayed on the machine room ceiling of one such nursery school contained tremolite asbestos. Initially, the Japanese government had intended to inspect buildings for all six recognized varieties of asbestos. However, industrial authorities believed that only the three most common posed a health threat; therefore, health inspectors did not look for tremolite and the others varieties that have now turned up. Of the 120 local governments contacted by the newspaper, only 75 percent had inspected schools and other public buildings for any kind of asbestos at all. Japan’s asbestos problem became apparent in 2005 when it was realized that residents living near the Kubota Machinery factory in Amagasaki were developing asbestos diseases at abnormally high rates.