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Public facilities still closed since June Osaka quake for fear of asbestos exposure

NEYAGAWA, Osaka -- Some libraries, community centers, classrooms, and other facilities in the northern part of this prefecture in western Japan remain closed due to collapsed ceilings and materials containing hazardous asbestos as of Sept. 18, three months after an earthquake in the area.

The situation highlights how asbestos can become exposed if buildings are damaged in natural disasters, even if measures are taken to prevent the material from scattering into the air. Experts recommend removing asbestos entirely, as public facilities are often used as evacuation centers in such emergencies.

Asbestos is a fire-resistant fibrous mineral formerly used in building materials and industrial goods. However, it is currently prohibited across Japan because of the high risk it poses of causing health problems such as mesothelioma and lung cancer.

A sign at the entrance of a multipurpose center in Neyagawa, Osaka Prefecture, which was hit by a temblor measuring an upper 5 on the 7-point Japanese seismic intensity scale on June 18, notified visitors that the central library is still closed. The institution, built more than 45 years ago, also houses the central library, city welfare department and the central community center. The library and the community center remain closed without any plans for reopening, even after three months have passed since the quake. There are fears that the asbestos used in the ceiling of the buildings could scatter if another quake occurred.

Over 30 locations in the ceiling of the fourth floor were damaged, where the community hall's seminar room and the library are located. All areas that used asbestos containing material (ACM) surfacing in the ceiling were immediately closed off. The auditorium on the second floor with surfacing ACM backstage also closed its doors.

Although measures were taken 27 years ago to harden the harmful materials using special chemicals, an investigation conducted after the June earthquake found that it is possible that the asbestos may crumble and scatter due to deterioration.

Surfacing ACM was exposed at Osaka Prefectural Minoo-Higashi High School in the city of Minoo, as materials used in the connecting corridor and audiovisual room crumbled in the temblor. The Osaka Prefectural Board of Education is moving forward with work to cover up the exposed asbestos, spreading sheets over the ceiling. A representative from the education board explained that the asbestos will not be removed since "there is a high chance that the work may not be able to remove all of it."

Fuyushi Nagakura, director-general of the Asbestos Center in Tokyo's Koto Ward, commented, "Covering it up or hardening it with chemicals is only a temporary fix, and it needs to instead be removed completely as soon as possible."

(Japanese original by Akira Okubo, Osaka City News Department)

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