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Asthma patients seek medical subsidies over pollution from auto emissions

Asthma patient Makiko Ishikawa, right, makes a speech during a rally calling for the establishment of a nationwide medical subsidy system for asthma patients, in front of Toyota Motor Corp.'s Tokyo headquarters in Bunkyo Ward on Feb. 18, 2019. (Mainichi/Toshiki Miyama)

TOKYO -- A group of 94 asthma patients who say their illness was caused by air pollution from car emissions and other sources petitioned the government's Environmental Dispute Coordination Commission on Feb. 18 for the establishment of a nationwide medical subsidy system for such sufferers.

The group comprises patients living in the Tokyo metropolitan area, Aichi Prefecture in central Japan, Osaka Prefecture to the west and other areas aged in their 30s through 90s, as well as a national federation of groups of pollution-related disease patients. They are demanding the government introduce a system that fully covers the copayment portion of medical expenses shouldered by asthma patients.

The patients filed a conciliation request with the coordination commission, an external bureau of the Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications tasked with resolving environmental disputes through conciliation and adjudication.

After the filing, the group visited the Tokyo head office of Toyota Motor Corp. in Bunkyo Ward to request that the auto giant provide funds for assisting patients and lobby the government to launch the subsidy system.

About 300 people including patients and their supporters assembled in front of the Toyota office, calling for the carmaker "to fulfill its social responsibility for causing air pollution" and saying that "Toyota, a leading global firm, should have enough money to provide relief to patients."

The patients are also demanding six other domestic automakers fork out funds for the medical relief system.

While the patients have in the past demanded the government introduce a countrywide subsidy program, the Ministry of the Environment dismissed their request, stating that "The causal relationship between air pollution and asthma has not been recognized, and we are in no situation to create a new medical subsidy system."

In response to the Feb. 18 petition, an official with the Environment Ministry told the Mainichi Shimbun, "We would like to closely examine the content of their application." A representative of Toyota Motor Co., however, said, "We cannot comment on the case as we have not been notified of the details."

(Japanese original by Atsushi Matsumoto, City News Department)

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