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Japan court gives $12m to asbestos victims

23:42 Wed Dec 5 2012

A Japanese court on Wednesday ordered the government to pay $US13 million ($A12.47 million) to 170 former construction workers and their bereaved families over exposure to asbestos.

But the Tokyo District Court rejected the plaintiffs' claim that private construction materials firms should also be held responsible for the health problems of their workers.

The lawsuit was brought by representatives of 337 people who became ill or died as a result of their exposure to asbestos, which was widely as insulation until the mid-1980s.

The plaintiffs accused the government and 42 companies of failing to take adequate safety measures despite knowing about the dangers associated with the material, which can cause cancer.

They originally demanded 12 billion yen ($146 million) in damages, but the court awarded a total 1.06-billion-yen to selected plaintiffs after case reviews.

"The government's measures against asbestos were insufficient," presiding judge Masamitsu Shiseki told the court, according to public broadcaster NHK.

"At least by 1981, the government needed to order businesses to require their workers to wear dust-protective masks and set punitive measures for those in violation," he said.

"The failure to take such measures is extremely irrational and unlawful," he said.