Japanese government punished for air pollution
By Eva Cheng
In a landmark court ruling on July 5, the Japanese government and its Hanshin Expressway Public Corporation were ordered to pay 65 million yen to 18 victims — some of whom are already dead.
The judgment is expected to have wide implications for the road and environmental policies in Japan; it legally establishes for the first time there that the government is responsible for letting cars pollute the air.
The Japanese government, defying public protests, in 1978 tripled the air pollution tolerance norm from 0.02 parts per million of nitrogen dioxide to 0.06 ppm and in 1988 ended all pollution-designated areas on the basis that "public pollution no longer exists". Observers believed the ruling — by Osaka District Court — would trigger similar claims in other parts of the country.
Despite the long-established evidence of automobile exhaust gases damaging health, Japanese refused to come to the same conclusion until March 1994. The court ruled then that pollutants damage health but punished only the polluting company.
The Osaka court accepted that the victims, who lived by roadsides, had their health damaged by factory smoke and auto exhausts. The judgment says, "Activity which made the people who lived on the side of roads sick, damaged their health and made their condition worse should be considered illegal."