It is official: 28 Japanese workers once employed at U.S. military bases in Okinawa have been recognized as victims of asbestos exposure, according to Japan's Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry.
The workers became ill as a direct result of inhaling asbestos fibers while working at the U.S. military bases, according to an article in The Japan Times.
Because of the low cost, extreme durability, and fire-retardant nature of asbestos, it was a common additive to hundreds of construction products, many of which were routinely used in the building of U.S. military facilities and ships well into the 20th century. For this reason, American veterans and active service members face an increased risk of asbestos exposure and the deadly diseases it can cause.
At the U.S. military bases, the Japanese workers came in contact with asbestos through demolition of asbestos-containing buildings, the spraying of asbestos, disposing and collecting of waste, and the repair and manufacturing of asbestos-containing machines. One worker claimed they were not warned about potential asbestos hazards or given adequate safety gear, according to the article.
All of the 28 asbestos victims have developed lung cancer, asbestosis, or mesotheliomaa rare form of asbestos-related cancer. Of the 28 victims, 21 have died.
Mesothelioma and other asbestos-related diseases have a latency period of between 20 and 50 years, so there is understandable concern that in the future more of the Japanese who worked on the U.S. military facility in Okinawa may also become official asbestos victims.