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Japan carmakers off hook in landmark pollution suit

31.10.2002
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Japan carmakers off hook in landmark pollution suit
TOKYO - A Japanese court yesterday ordered the central and Tokyo city governments to pay compensation for health problems caused by diesel exhaust fumes but rejected a demand that vehicle makers be made to pay as well.
It was the first time that Japanese automakers had been taken to court in a suit over health problems related to pollution. The Tokyo District Court ruled that the national government, Tokyo city government and a public highway corporation owed a total of 79.2 million yen ($642,600) to seven of the 99 plaintiffs for contributing to their health problems. The plaintiffs, who suffer from pollution-related diseases such as asthma, had sought a combined 2.23 billion yen ($18 million) in compensation and an injunction against emission of pollutants. The injunction was also rejected by the court. \"Although I have some problems with the verdict, it is the responsibility of the administration to help those whose health has been damaged,\" Kyodo news agency quoted Tokyo governor Shintaro Ishihara as saying. Ishihara, who has sought to reduce the number of diesel-powered vehicles in the capital, said the Tokyo city government would not appeal against the ruling. Construction Minister Chikage Ogi said the ruling would be taken seriously. \"As far as the government is concerned, this is a very tough ruling,\" she was quoted by NHK national television as saying. \"I hope we can draw up comprehensive environmental policies concerning roads as quickly as possible.\" Plaintiffs, however, were frustrated and unhappy. \"It\'s a huge disappointment that the responsibility of automakers was not upheld,\" one man told NHK. MADE ILL BY EXHAUST The suit named seven automakers: Toyota Motor Corp, Nissan Motor Co, Nissan Diesel Motor Co, Mitsubishi Motors Corp, Hino Motors Ltd, Isuzu Motors Ltd and Mazda Motor Corp. The suit claimed that the plaintiffs had been made sick by vehicle exhaust, and diesel exhaust particles in particular, from 104 roads and expressways in the Tokyo metropolitan area. The suit said that profits had motivated the carmakers to continue producing vehicles that emitted harmful exhaust fumes and to expand the market for diesel-powered vehicles. The automakers argued that they had tried their best to develop technologies to reduce exhaust gas and said the spread of diesel-powered vehicles was recognised as being market-driven. \"We have always done our utmost to develop environmentally friendly technology...we believe our argument was accepted by the court in this case,\" Nissan Diesel said in a statement released after the ruling. The manufacturers also said the concentration of automobiles in Tokyo causing air pollution must be understood as part of larger urban problems that cannot be controlled by the industry. The results of the suit, filed in 1996, are likely to give new impetus to efforts by governor Ishihara to clamp down on diesel vehicles in Tokyo, a car-choked city of more than 12 million people in a region of more than 30 million people. Story by Elaine Lies REUTERS NEWS SERVICE
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