A board that probes into employee’s work-related accidents has acknowledged that an Osaka public high school chemistry teacher’s cancer, which killed him, was a result of his exposure to asbestos used in class experiments. The death was the first time a work-related accident has been recognized by the board.
The teacher began working in Osaka prefectural high schools since 1975. At the time of his death, he had worked at five different schools within the region. He died in 2007 at the age of 57 after being diagnosed with mesothelioma the previous year. Mesothelioma is a type of cancer that is usually caused by repeated inhalation of asbestos particles. According to the probe, the teacher conducted the known “flame coloration experiments” in his chemistry classes from the years 1978 until 1984. In the experiment, asbestos cords are soaked in various metal ion solutions and burned individually to show different colored flames per metal ion solution. They concluded that the teacher might have inhaled huge amounts of asbestos particles when he would cut the cords in his experiments, resulting in his developing cancer while doing work.
Other sources have noted that some chemistry teachers from the same school conduct the same experiment, and indications of this show in a class instruction manual that includes flame coloration experiments until asbestos-based products were banned in 2004. But another claim by the victim’s family saying that asbestos had also spread from the metal mesh used in experiments has been denied by the panel, noting, “The possibility that asbestos had scattered from metal mesh containing asbestos cannot be ruled out, but it is highly unlikely.”
The recognition of his death as a work-related accident was confirmed by the Osaka branch of the Fund for Local Government Employee’s Accident Compensation after the family appealed its 2009 decision. 13 other petitions have been filed for the acknowledgement of hazards to teachers‘ health due to asbestos inhalation, but so far, this is the only case that has been recognized. Akihiko Kataoka, deputy secretary-general of the Kansai Occupational Safety & Health Center, who backed the family in their appeal is happy with the decision. “It’s of great significance that the danger that asbestos poses to those involved in classes has been officially recognized.” Further adding, “Attention should be paid to the fact that teachers were more exposed to asbestos than schoolchildren, and investigations should be conducted on the matter.”