Japanese Automakers Settle with Asthma Patients

Eleven-year old battle blaming diesel gas fumes for asthma

Asthma patients on Aug. 17 welcomed a settlement with major Japanese automakers and the government resolving a long row over air pollution blamed for killing more than 100 people in Tokyo alone. The plaintiffs agreed to a court-mediated settlement to end an 11-year legal battle against seven automakers, which include industry giants Toyota, Honda and Nissan, and government bodies.

More than 520 Tokyo residents had filed the lawsuit, blaming diesel gas fumes for causing their asthma. The plaintiffs said about 110 people who were previously part of the lawsuit have already died of their illnesses. Asthma patients have regularly held noisy protests outside the headquarters of Nissan and other automakers they accused of dragging their feet on the row.

Under the settlement, the automakers alone will pay 3.3 billion yen (US$28.6 million) to underwrite a five-year health plan for the asthma patients. The automakers will also pay a one-time 1.2 billion yen to the plaintiffs.

Under the settlement, the Tokyo Metropolitan government agreed to pay around one-third of the 20 billion-yen cost for the health plan over the next five years. It said it would push for a greater contribution by Tokyo's highway operator, Metropolitan Expressway Co., which said it can pitch in no more than 500 million yen.

The health concerns date from before 2003, when authorities imposed strict regulations on diesel-engine exhaust emission in Tokyo and surrounding areas. Japanese automakers have in recent years pioneered environmentally friendly cars, which have proven to be a major success, particularly in the U.S. market.

Copyright Agence France-Presse, 2007

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