From the "Controlled-Use" of ASBESTOS to the Ban on Main ASBESTOS Products
The process in JAPAN: June 2002 - Oct. 2004
Ouchi Kazuko, Citizens Group "Let's Think About Asbestos!", Japan
(updated on 17 April 2005)
In the middle of 1990s, Japan imported approximately 200,000 tons of asbestos per year, but most people did not know the fact. The misconception planted in the society has concealed the magnitude of this issue, while numerous hidden victims have been produced. I was interested in why such a misconception could be embedded in the society. I established the internet website "Let's Think about ASBESTOS" in 1997*1. Since then, I've been sending information regarding asbestos issue in Japan.
In June 2002, the Japanese government declared to change the policy and head for banning on asbestos. The new policy was put into practice on 1st Oct. 2004, but, actually, ban was limited to only ten kinds of asbestos products.
Some other countries such as EU had already taken a firm step to total ban. Also, it is said that there were some 3,000 kinds of asbestos-containing products in the golden era. It is not clear why Japan had taken the policy of partial ban and why these ten kinds of products were targeted on prohibition.
Recently, not only Government but also mass media are referring to this banning as if it was total ban or basic ban on asbestos. Under these situations, as it is concerned another misconception might be produced, it is necessary to make sure of what were banned and what were not banned and to clarify the process of the ban on asbestos in Japan.
The ten kinds of asbestos products
In Oct. 2003, the Enforcement Order of the Industrial Safety and Health Law (ISHL) was amended. The amended ISHL prohibited manufacture, import, use and transfer of the following ten kinds of products containing asbestos above 1% by weight*2.
Products which were not prohibited
The amended Enforcement Order did not prohibit the following materials;
(1) Asbestos fiber is not targeted on the amended Order. (To import chrysotile fiber is completely legal.)
(2) To import or product any other asbestos-containing products except these ten prohibited products are admitted.
(3) To import or produce these ten prohibited products containing asbestos at or below 1% by weight are not prohibited.
(4) The amended Enforcement Order ruled that these ten prohibited-products produced or imported before 1st Oct. 2004 were not applied to theOrder. It means even those ten prohibited-products, if they were produced or imported within one year after the amendment can be legally sold from now on*3.
The following table explains the report of "the Technical Committee on Substitution for Asbestos". Officially, the committee decided the prohibited products.
According this table, construction materials were classified into five categories (Asbestos cement pipes, Extruded cement panels, Decorated cement shingles for dwelling roofs, Fiber reinforced cement boards and Fiber reinforced cement sidings), which were concluded to be able to be replaced and should be banned.
Other materials except these construction materials were classified into six categories, such as friction materials for clutch and brake, adhesives for insulator, sealing materials, jointing sheets, thermal/electrical insulating sheets and asbestos cloth and thread and others. Two of these six categories, friction materials for clutch and brake and adhesives for insulator were concluded to be able to be replaced, and the others were concluded to be difficult to be replaced and they should be used under the theory of 'controlled-use' with certain present regulations.
As a result, seven kinds of asbestos products
(as friction materials were subdivided into
four kinds, Clutch facings, Clutch linings,
Brake pads and Brake linings, later, ten
kinds of products) were decided to be prohibited.
(Quoted from the web site of MHLW and translated into English*)
The process to the prohibition
The process during this period was as below.
On 28 June 2002, the Minister of Health, Labor and Welfare, Dr. Chikara Sakaguchi, declared the new policy that all Asbestos-containing products should be prohibited except products considered to be unavoidable for industrial and public safety. It was the place of press conference*5 to account for the Governmental Answer*6 to the Question in Writing requested by the Diet member, Mr. Atsuo Nakamura, under the Diet Law*7.
The ministry set about researching on asbestos-containing products based on the Governmental Answer and formed "the Technical Committee on Substitution for Asbestos" consisted of eight technical experts, in Dec.2002. (There is no description about the Substitution Committee in the constructing document, but another committee consisted of other members including ones from relating asbestos industries.)
The Substitution Committee decided the basic frame of ban, that is, the possibilities of replacement should be decided at category level and in the cases of which alternatives don't exist or are considerably inferior in quality and may cause socially unacceptable problems, the products should be decided as difficult to be replaced. The Report of this Committee was released in Apr. 2003*8.
The Committee decided seven categories of products out of eleven should be banned. As friction material was re-defined into four kinds, such as brake and clutch, later, the total prohibited products became ten kinds.
Based on the report of this committee, the notification was sent to the World Trade Organization (WTO) in May 2003*9. At the same time, the national comments were invited, but only a few lines of overview were given to the nation for that*10.
On the other hand, prior to the WTO notification, the Hearing from Foreign Parties was carried out in Tokyo, in Apr. 2003. The Asbestos Institute and the Canadian government demonstrated their stances*11.
After the last decision had been made by the Labor Policy Council, in Sep. 2003*12, the Enforcement Order of the ISHL was amended in Oct. 2003. It was enforced in Oct. 2004. As the amended Enforcement Order has a stipulation that products imported or produced before Oct. 2004 are not applicable to it, it might promote production or import before the deadline.
- The flow to the ban on ten kinds of asbestos products -
At the time of the notification to the WTO, in May 2003, the report of "The Technical Committee on Substitution for Asbestos" was used to explain the necessity of prohibition on these ten kinds of asbestos products in Japan. Also, when the Government invited the national public comment, in May 2003, the result of this committee was used to explain the decision of the MHLW.
To examine the reason why these ten kinds of products were targeted on prohibition, the role played by the Committee was very important, but there are many ambiguous factors about the Committee.
For example, the MHLW entrusted the management of the Committee to the Japan Industrial Safety and Health Association (JISHA), but the officer of the MHLW says he can't find any description about the Committee in the contracting documents. It means the MHLW can't do their accountability how the Substitution Committee was established and managed, or, how much money was spent for the management of the committee.
Also, the contracting document indicated there was another committee consisted of other members including members from asbestos-related industry*18.
Although the Substitution Committee actually existed and decided the prohibited products, it might have played a role of a dummy committee. If it is true, another problem, what was the Substitution Committee, should be asked.
The MHL should account for the entire procedure, including how they has contract with the JISHA, to the nation.
The ban on asbestos in Japan can be characterized
The last remark
Although the asbestos issue concerns the whole nations, the decision on asbestos ban was decided in a small and closed world along with only perfunctory democratic procedure. It is necessary for us to require for opening the closed society and adjust the lack of transparency during the whole procedures. It would be important to realize a total ban on asbestos in Japan.
(Dec. 30, 2004)
1) "Let's Think about ASBESTOS"
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