Japanese Courts Find Roadbuilders Guilty for Pollution Related Illnesses

Since the late 1970s 519 lawsuits have been brought in Japanese courts by victims of pollution-related illnesses seeking damages against roadbuilders. The courts have recognized a cause-and-effect relationship between highway constructions, nitrogen dioxide emissions, and respiratory ailments. More than 4 billion yen (about $40 million) has been paid to the plaintiffs in settlements.

In a July 1995 ruling, for example, Osaka District Court held that the central Japanese government and the Ilanshin Expressway Public Corporation are responsible for air pollution along roads in Nishiyodogawa Ward. The two defendants were ordered to pay 65 million yen (about $500,000) to 18 patients. Such rulings help establish the principle that agencies should consider the negative effects of roadbuilding on people and communities when deciding transportation policy. (Jiji Press/EcoCity Report)

JFS Newsletter No.31 (March 2005)
In December 2000, the Tokyo Metropolitan Government completely amended its Pollution Control Ordinance for the first time in 30 years and passed the Municipal Environment Protection Ordinance of Tokyo, officially known as the Environment Ordinance to Ensure Tokyo Citizens’ Health and Safety. The original ordinance had for years played a significant role in protecting citizens’ health from industrial pollution and in helping to improve the urban environment.

But new regulations and approaches became necessary to respond to the emergence of other environmental concerns, such as car pollution and hazardous chemical emissions, the heat island effect, and global warming. The new ordinance aims to secure an environment in which citizens can continue to lead healthy, safe and comfortable lives.

For years, the Tokyo metropolitan government has been promoting innovative environmental measures that are often ahead of efforts by the national government. This article looks back on the history of air pollution in Japan and introduces how the country’s capital city has been dealing with pollution.

Municipal Environment Protection Ordinance of Tokyo (Japanese only)

Tokyo’s History with Air Pollution

The history of institutional steps by the government to address environmental issues this century begins with anti-pollution measures. Post-war Japan experienced a rapid economic recovery, and entered an age of high economic growth. This growth, however, was promoted by heavy industry and chemical industries, which resulted serious air pollution throughout Japan, mainly soot, dust and sulfur oxides (SOx). The national government was slow to institute pollution controls.

In contrast, the Tokyo Metropolitan Government had established the Tokyo Prefectural Ordinance for Factory Pollution Control in 1949, the first ordinance of its kind in the nation, and in 1955 it established the Tokyo Prefectural Ordinance for Soot and Smoke Control. In many such cases Tokyo took institutional steps to address pollution even before the national and local governments.

In 1969, the capital city established the Tokyo Pollution Control Ordinance, which included environmental standards as well as a system for factories to report their activities that may cause air pollution. At the time, this was recognized as the most advanced and comprehensive environmental ordinance in Japan. Several other municipalities later established similar ordinances, and these developments prompted the central government to establish national environmental laws.

In 1968, the national government enforced the Air Pollution Control Law to regulate industrial smoke emissions and set the maximum permitted level of vehicle exhaust gases. Emission standards for SOx and soot and dust were included in the law. In 1970, during what became known as the “Environmental Pollution Diet Session” the government amended the law, making harmful substances such as nitrogen oxides (NOx), cadmium, chlorine, fluorine and lead also subject to regulation. In 1974 the law was further amended to allow prefectural governors to set stricter standards for area-wide total air pollutant loads for SOx.

Outline of the Air Pollution Control Law by the Ministry of the Environment:

Automobile Exhaust Gas Regulations

As industrial pollutants such as soot and smoke from factories were dramatically reduced, over the years urban air pollution from the daily activities of citizens became noticeable in Tokyo. Increases in vehicle traffic and the number of diesel cars on the road prevented any improvements in air pollution from automobile exhaust fumes.

For years, there were no adequate measures in place to prevent car-exhaust pollution. Achievement of the environmental standards remained dismal, especially in terms of emissions of NOx and particulate matter (PM) from diesel cars. Environmental quality standards for air, water and soil pollution as well as noise were defined as “the desirable levels that will maintain protection of human health and our living environment.

In 1992, the government enforced the Automobile NOx Reduction Law (officially known as the Law concerning Special Measures for Total Emission Reduction of NOx from Automobiles in Specified Areas) to achieve environmental standards for NOx. This law designated some large cities where vehicles with high NOx emissions would be regulated.

Diesel Vehicle Regulation

The Tokyo government introduced the Diesel Vehicle Regulation in 1999, concerning the health effects of the PM contained in gas emissions from diesel vehicles. A landmark court decision in the Amagasaki pollution lawsuit in January 2000 found that the PM from diesel vehicles was correlated with health problems, especially cancers and respiratory disorders.

Tokyo enacted its own environmental ordinance in December 2000 to regulate emissions from diesel vehicles. Saitama, Chiba and Kanagawa prefectures later introduced similar laws. In 2001, the Japanese government revised the Automobile NOx Control Law, finally making PM subject to regulation along with NOx. (The law was renamed the Automobile NOx PM Law.) Despite this, the government has postponed the enforcement of this law. Tokyo has been criticizing the central government’s approach and calling for early enforcement of the law.

Starting on October 1, 2003, Saitama, Chiba, Tokyo and Kanagawa prefectures have prohibited traffic of diesel vehicles whose emission levels do not meet the PM standards specified in their ordinances (islands under Tokyo’s jurisdiction are excepted). Non-conforming vehicles must be replaced with vehicles that meet the standards or with low-emission vehicles, or be fitted with proper PM filter equipment that has been certified by the prefectural governments.

In order to promote their ordinances, the four prefectures and their major cities (i.e., Saitama, Chiba, Tokyo and Kanagawa prefectures, and Saitama, Chiba, Yokohama, and Kawasaki cities) have specified several kinds of equipment that reduce PM.

These prefectures and cities have also designated compressed natural gas (CNG) vehicles, liquefied petroleum gas (LPG) vehicles, electric vehicles and hybrid vehicles as low-emission vehicles and promoted the use of these cars.

Environmental Bureau of the Tokyo Metropolitan Government Information on the regulation of diesel vehicles

Asian Network of Major Cities 21 (ANMC21)

In many rapidly industrializing countries in Asia, air pollutant emissions have been on the rise. The Asian Network of Major Cities (ANMC21), established in 2001, has jointly launched the “Asian Cities’ Network for Controlling Vehicle Emissions,” to reduce air pollution, now a serious problem facing Asian metropolises.

Representatives from Delhi, Jakarta, Kuala Lumpur, Taipei and Tokyo participated in a working-level meeting on automobile emissions, held in Delhi, India on November 8 and 9, 2004.

For years, Tokyo has been positively addressing environmental concerns such as industrial pollution, vehicle-related pollution and global warming. The measures taken by Tokyo, one of the world’s largest cities, to secure the health and safety of its citizens could become a useful model for other Asian countries. Tokyo’s efforts to become a sustainable metropolis with environmentally conscious social and economic system systems are giving it a leading role not only in Japan but also internationally.

Asian Network of Major Cities 21 (ANMC21)

Amagasaki air pollution suit ends with car regulations

June 14, 2013
Air pollution victims in Amagasaki City in Hyogo Prefecture and their legal team on June 13 concluded consultations to regulate the emissions of large vehicles with the state and Hanshin Expressway Company.

This has brought an end to the 25-year-long Amagasaki air pollution lawsuit filed against the government and the company by a total of 498 plaintiffs of whom 251 have already died.

Following a district court judgment ordering a suspension of pollutant emissions in January 2000, both sides agreed that state authorities would set regulations on large-sized vehicles. They have discussed regulatory contents since.

A written agreement says that the new rules will be effective to reduce heavy traffic with large vehicles and to improve atmospheric conditions.

Based on the agreement, the state will set about implementing regulations such as an “environmental road pricing and lane system” which encourages the use of roads to avoid driving in residential areas or near sidewalks.

After signing the agreement, plaintiffs’ group head Matsu Mitsuko said to reporters, “I want to share the victory written in this agreement with the deceased patients.”

Kawasaki pollution lawsuit settled by pledge to improve

One of Japan’s largest pollution suits ended Thursday when about 400 Kawasaki residents signed an agreement to drop all claims, including for compensation, in exchange for a vow from the state and the Metropolitan Expressway Public Corp. to “seriously work” on improving air quality along highways.

The plaintiffs said they agreed to accept the Tokyo High Court-mediated settlement of their 17-year legal battle because it clearly states that air pollution is “an ongoing problem” in Kawasaki and that such pollution has been caused not only by factory emissions in the industrial city but also by car exhaust.

The plaintiffs claimed their illnesses, including asthma and other respiratory disorders, were caused by auto emissions as well as by industries.

The settlement document says car emissions adversely affected “the living conditions” of people living near the expressway. It avoided use of “health” but in effect recognized the causal relationship, pleasing both the plaintiffs and the state.

The government and the semigovernmental expressway corporation refused to recognize the relationship between car exhaust and health, thus, the agreement does not require an apology or compensation from the defendants. However, the state, in exchange, pledged 400 billion yen to improve Kawasaki’s traffic environment.

It is the second such settlement among several air pollution suits filed against the state following a court-mediated settlement won by a group of residents of Osaka’s Nishi-Yodogawa Ward in July.

The Kawasaki plaintiffs called the settlement ground-breaking, reckoning it will realize their hopes to live in a clean environment in the future.

“I am happy that we settled the lawsuit,” said Yoshio Miyashita, 83, head of the plaintiff group. “But considering that more than 160 plaintiffs died during the 17-year court battle, we should have settled it earlier.”

Mitsuo Kato, head of the plaintiffs’ legal team, said the settlement is a new start for the plaintiffs and their supporters.

“We have to continue watching whether the government follows through on its pledge and creates a better environment in Kawasaki,” the lawyer told reporters.

“We are delighted that we settled the lawsuit under the agreement,” Yoshi Hirose, chief of the Environment Agency’s Air Quality Bureau, said in a written statement. “The agency will address the issue all the more to achieve the environmental standard in the Kawasaki area.”

Tomomitsu Fujii, head of the Construction Ministry’s Kanto Regional Construction Bureau, said the ministry will deal with the issue “in a sincere manner” through cooperation with the state, the city of Kawasaki and the expressway corporation.

Although the agreement does not admit to a relationship between auto emissions and health problems, its preamble states that air pollution caused by floating particles and nitrogen dioxide, which exceeds environmental limits, is affecting the environment of Kawasaki’s residential area.

The preamble also said last August’s ruling by the Yokohama District Court, which ordered the government and the public expressway firm to pay compensation, was a warning to the state.

According to the settlement, the government will act to improve the traffic environment and take steps to measure the concentration in the air of microparticles, which are considered harmful to the human body.

The two sides also agreed to establish a council to remain in contact, it says.

Half of the plaintiffs are officially recognized victims of so-called Kawasaki disease, which is caused by factory and auto emissions.

The Kawasaki lawsuits were filed in four stages between 1982 and 1988 against the government and the highway operator because of their responsibility for roads, and against 14 manufacturers with factories in the area.

In the first lawsuit, which was filed in 1982, the Kawasaki branch of the Yokohama District Court ordered the 14 companies in 1994 to pay 460 million yen in compensation but ruled that the state and highway operator were not liable.

In December 1996, the plaintiffs in all four stages reached a 3.1 billion yen out-of-court settlement with the 14 companies.

With the settlement of the Kawasaki suits, Japan’s four biggest air pollution disputes have come to an end. The other three involved air pollution in the city of Chiba, in Kurashiki, Okayama Prefecture, and in Nishi-Yodogawa Ward, Osaka Prefecture.

The settlement is expected to affect similar, ongoing air pollution suits in Tokyo, Nagoya and Amagasaki, Hyogo Prefecture.