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Asbestos Laden Waste Creates Health Hazard for Japanese Workers Becoming A Suicidal Act

Japanese workers during tsunami aftermathMonths after the Japanese Tsunami officials continue to speculate as to the overall health hazard the cleanup site poses to the workers, volunteers and residents who have been left to roam freely through the debris that remains. According to a recent CBS News article covering the cleanup:

“Workers, volunteers and residents roam freely through the debris. Some wear masks; others don’t, despite the plumes of dust that shoot up every time a giant steel claw grabs a load of debris. On windy days, particles swirl in the air. They sting eyes and irritate throats before leaving behind a thin layer of dust on whatever passes through.

“There are a lot of people going back into the rubble to search for valuables and photos,” said Takuo Saitou, a Sendai-based attorney and a spokesman for a group tackling defective home issues in northern Japan.

“There are people not even wearing masks. This is like a suicidal act,” he said. “We want people to know this is a problem.”

Asbestos fibers are so small that they easily enter the lungs, where they cause inflammation. Studies show they increase the risk of lung cancer, the rare cancer mesothelioma and lung disorders including asbestosis. Because the effects of asbestos are long-term, it often takes decades to see them.

Saitou’s group submitted letters last week to the environment minister and other government officials asking for air monitoring around disaster-hit areas, effective public information, mask distribution and proper handling of asbestos-laden waste.

The problem has been faced before by both Japan and the U.S. — two of the biggest asbestos consumers of the 20th century. As they struggled to address disasters, they found themselves spread too thin to address longer-term health hazards.

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