あおぞら財団 The Experience of Organizing Pollution  Victims in Nishiyodogawa
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The Experience of Organizing Pollution Victims in Nishiyodogawa

Kimio Moriwaki
Chairman Nishiyodogawa Association for Pollution Patients and Their Families

In was 1968 when I came to Nishiyodogawa as an organizer for establishing a hospital. Japan has a long history of movements by citizens to set up democratic medical care institutions, for even before World War II there were urban movements to establish clinics for the propertyless, and these seeds bore fruit when postwar advances were made in democratization and the social security system.

The democratic medical care facility movement in which I was involved was linked to the movement to protect the livelihoods and health of local citizens. Nishiyodogawa Ward is a low-lying area of the city with many low-income people where one finds small and medium-sized factories of the machinery and metal industries, the cheap apartments of the people who work there, and small stores crowded upon one another. In an effort to blend into the area as quickly as possible, I took baseball equipment and grumdrops to the park playground every day, where I would assemble the children and play baseball with them. I still remember the face and name of one of them, Kotani, who suffered from severe bronchial asthma. He turned my attention to the pathetic state of illnesses caused by air pollution, and to the many people afflicted with them.

Air pollution in Nishiyodogawa Ward in those days was so bad that birds would fall from the sky, and motor vehicles had to turn on their headlights even during the day. It’s hard to believe, but it was true.

Although Japan had a health insurance system since before the war, it was in 1960 that the system started providing insurance for all citizens. As the health insurance system became well established among the citizens, there was advancement in medical care institutions, which constitute the other essential half of the combination. Getting a firm understanding of local citizens became the medical care institutions’ financial underpinning. So this showed what really held the medical care system together, and it was under these general circumstances that in Nishiyodogawa Ward, gaining a full understanding of local pollution patients became both the mission of democratic medical care institutions firmly established in their localities, and a strategy for stable financial operations.

In 1968 the government passed the Law on Special Measures Concerning Redress for Pollution-Related Health Damage, which reduced or exempted medical expenses for people suffering from pollution-caused diseases. By 1970 pollution-victimized citizens had filed the Four Great Pollution Lawsuits, which served to give the victims’ movement a sudden boost. For about six months beginning in February 1972, I was busy organizing pollution victims in Nishiyodogawa. But organizing them was terribly difficult work because I didn’t know where they were living, and there were prejudice and discrimination against pollution ailments. What’s more, some people didn’t realize that their own illnesses were pollution-caused. For the first three months, I stood on about 100 street corners in the ward speaking with a megaphone, and walked around delivering leaflets to homes. About 400 people attended the meeting in a school auditorium at which the Nishiyodogawa Association for Pollution Patients and Their Families was formed. Many of them were not pollution victims themselves, but rather people who were angry about pollution and wanted it stopped. But as we held study meetings in our area on the landmark decision in the Yokkaichi Pollution Lawsuit, people became increasingly aware that the corporations are responsible for compensating their suffering, and this realization helped make progress in organizing the victims.

After the Pollution Patients Association’s formed, I manned the counter at the Medical Care Center for Pollution-Caused Illnesses, which had been built by the Nishiyodogawa Medical Association to care for pollution patients’ health. When patients came in, I served as receptionist and also handed them application forms to join our association. Medical Association members also advised patients to directly join. In this way the Pollution Patients Association and the Medical Association worked together closely in organizing the patients. It’s safe to say that our association as it stands today wouldn’t have been possible without the Medical Association’s dedicated help, and it was the relationship between medical care institutions and patients as described above that expedited these activities.

In March 1973, 200 Nishiyodogawa pollution victims did a round-the-clock sit-in at the Osaka City mayor’s office, where many of them collapsed and were taken away in ambulances. This action won a system that certified pollution patients through a program called the “System for Compensating Program Patients,” under which only Nishiyodogawa patients were eligible. It used donations from companies in the ward to partially pay pollution victims’ medical and livelihood expenses.

Owing to reasons including the appearance of many reformist local governments around the nation, this system was adopted in many places, and the influence of the Yokkaichi court victory helped force the Environment Agency (a preparatory office) create a national program. Because we had been ahead of the nation with our own program, we members of the Patients Association and Medical Association, as well as Osaka City administrators, were called to Tokyo on a nearly daily basis where we joined bureaucrats in discussing each word and phrase of the new program for compensating pollution victims. That was the summer of 1973. In three short months of intensive work we completed the program’s outline.

For various reasons the program began operating in September 1974, and immediately thereafter I began a movement to get all local governments in Osaka Prefecture to use this program. I hurried around the prefecture, organizing pollution patients everywhere and applying persuasion to medical associations and local governments. In this way the Osaka Air Pollution Victims Association was formed in 1977, and the Japan Air Pollution Victims Association in 1981.

As the leaders of pollution patients’ associations in other cities have written, the process of organizing such associations have regional characteristics. For example, in Kurashiki the citizen movement came first, while in neighboring Amagasaki City it was a housewife, Mrs. Mitsuko Matsu, who powered the movement. But after the Japan Air Pollution Victims Association started, the movement became united and coordinated nationally with respect to air pollution victims. When a pollution lawsuit in one place reached a climax, the Association mobilized people nationally for support, and served as a powerful ally.

In 1976 a liaison group (The Japan Action Commission of Environmental Pollution Victims) was formed for the organizations serving victims of every pollution-induced sickness including Minamata disease, itai-itai disease, SMON, and Kanemi cooking oil contamination, and I was named as the secretary-general. Every June through a concerted action by pollution victims we conduct activities such as direct negotiations with the Environment Agency director-general, and this demonstrates the strongest influence on Japan’s pollution and environmental policy.

I won’t go into pollution lawsuits in this report because the leaders of other pollution patients’ organizations and lawyers discuss them. However, I would like to look back over the history of our struggle to date and mention one item that requires soul-searching on our part.

It’s a fact that until now, in order to carry on with pollution lawsuits, we have caused mental anguish for many victims, and left behind those who were unable to keep up. In Nishiyodogawa the battle with the defendant companies has ended. As I look back over the 18-year struggle, I feel sincerely thankful about how the many pollution victims and their families endured the long ordeal. But many victims, for reasons including the discontinuance of certifications, have advanced in years, and along with the fear of asthma attacks that could strike at any time, they feel increasing anxiety about their old age. I have resolved anew that in our activities from now on we must carry on the battle in such a way that each and every pollution victim can lead a life that warms the soul, and one that allows a person to say, “I’m glad I persevered and lived.” And for that purpose I want to overhaul our activities to make the success of our settlement with the companies useful in the kind of community development that lets people lead lives of health and happiness, and in helping pollution victims regain health and find meaning in their lives.