Subject: [cwj 134] Japanese Govt. Ordered To Pay In Suit Over Highway Pollution
From: Corporate Watch in Japanese <>
Date: Wed, 29 Nov 2000 17:22:42 -0800
Seq: 134


By Uli Schmetzer 
Chicago Tribune Foreign Correspondent 
November 29, 2000 

TOKYO -- In a ruling that sent jitters through Japan's bureaucracy, a court
has ordered the government to compensate residents who suffered health
problems caused by vehicle emissions from a nearby highway.

The ruling by the Nagoya district court in central Japan was expected to open
the floodgates to similar lawsuits in the world's most densely populated
nation, where a spider web of highways runs through heavily populated areas.

During the trial, government lawyers argued that vehicle pollution in Nagoya
was not a serious issue. They suggested that smoking or allergies could have
caused the plaintiffs' respiratory illnesses.

Lawyers for the residents, however, provided medical evidence that the
number of chronic bronchial, asthma and emphysema cases had dramatically
increased since the highway was constructed.

The court acknowledged that industrial plant emissions and exhaust fumes
from motor vehicles are related to respiratory diseases. It ruled that the
government and its agencies must keep air pollution at acceptable levels for
residents who live near highways.

The verdict was the second time this year a judge has ruled in favor of
residents suing the government for failing to curb pollution. But it was
the first
time a court has ruled that highway pollution is a hazard for nearby
A third pollution case is pending in Tokyo.

In the Nagoya case, three plaintiffs fought 10 years to win the lawsuit
National Highway No. 23, a main road that carries the bulk of traffic through
central Japan. The court awarded the three a total of $161,000 in
compensation. A fourth plaintiff died during the long litigation process.

The four were part of a wider complaint that included 110 other local
residents who demanded $40 million in compensation for what they said were
toxic emissions from other industrial concerns. The court ordered 10
companies in Nagoya to pay $2.6 million to the 110 for high levels of sulfur
dioxide emissions. Even though the figure was lower than what the plaintiffs
sought, environmentalists saw it as a symbolic victory in their battle to make
the government accountable for excessive pollution.

In a ruling that made headlines in a nation known for deference to central and
local governments, Judge Akinori Kitazawa said the state had failed to
protect the health of its residents.

"Damage from toxic substances emitted from vehicles on National Highway
No. 23 to the plaintiffs' lives is irrecoverable. The central government has
failed to take appropriate measures to curb the emissions," the judge said in
his ruling.

Stunned by the ruling, Masahiko Okano, head of the Construction Ministry's
regional bureau, said he would have to consult with other departments on its
significance. The government is expected to appeal to a higher court.
However, the 10 industrial companies have indicated they are willing to pay.

Yasuhisa Tamegai, the resident who spearheaded the case, said his first job is
to "report to the families of those who have died since we started" the suit.

Independent lawyers said the case is significant because it recognizes the
relationship between toxic vehicle and industrial emissions and personal

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