YOKOSUKA NAVAL BASE, Japan — The man who accused the U.S. Navy and Japanese government of failing to protect Yokosuka Naval Base workers from asbestos exposure died 10 days after filing a lawsuit.

The 51-year-old died May 19 from malignant pleural mesothelioma, an asbestos-related illness, according to a statement released by his lawyer, who would not give the name of the man. U.S. Navy officials identified him as Hitoshi Taima.

His lawyer said in a statement that the man was exposed to asbestos particles between 1977 and 1995, when he repaired refrigerators and air conditioners for U.S. Naval Facilities Engineering Command at Yokosuka.

Taima continued to work on base until last year and was the subject of a recently averted strike over his medical leave. That effort was headed up by Zenchuro Yokosuka, a local group of about 4,000 base workers

Taima’s family will continue to pursue the lawsuit, which claims the Navy and the Japanese governments didn’t take proper precautions or provide workers with the right protection equipment, said Zenchuro secretary general Hiroki Otogawa.

The lawsuit filed May 9 against the Defense Facilities Administration Agency seeks 86.5 million yen (about $733,000) in compensation, Otogawa said.

Taima’s funeral was held May 24, and Naval Facilities Engineering Command Far East’s (NAVFAC) commanding officer Capt. Christopher Kiwus attended with other NAVFAC workers, according to a NAVFAC spokeswoman.

The Defense Facilities Administration Agency said it mourned the worker’s death but declined to comment on the lawsuit.

The first hearing will be held at Yokohama District Court in Yokosuka on June 25.

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Hana Kusumoto is a reporter/translator who has been covering local authorities in Japan since 2002. She was born in Nagoya, Japan, and lived in Australia and Illinois growing up. She holds a journalism degree from Boston University and previously worked for the Christian Science Monitor’s Tokyo bureau.

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