July 26, 2006


Minamata Disease 50 Years Later: Past and Present

Keywords: Chemicals Local government 

Half a century ago the first victim of mercury poisoning was found: this was Minamata disease, Japan's most serious pollution-related illness in the postwar period. Today, Minamata City in southern Japan, once stigmatized by the disease, is one of the most environment-conscious cities in the world. In a full-fledged effort to build a city founded on environmental protection and not to forget the lessons learned from Minamata disease, the city has promoted a "Minamata Environment Regeneration Project" since 1990. In 1992 it also declared its intention to become a model environmental city, creating the "Minamata Environment Award," for recognizing people who have created eco-friendly and health-conscious products as "Environment Masters."

After several rounds of civil lawsuits, the issue of legal responsibility for Minamata disease was finally resolved about half a century after its discovery in 2004, when the Japanese Supreme Court ruled that the national government and Kumamoto Prefecture were jointly responsible for the cause and spread of Minamata disease. However, many problems, such as care for aging patients, still remain. The city will hold a memorial ceremony and various other programs in order to re-examine the issue from several perspectives, including memorials, lessons, community welfare, and promoting "moyai," a local term for cooperation meaning "tying boats together."

Minamata disease, once widespread around Minamata Bay, is counted among the most notorious pollution-caused diseases. It is a neurological disease caused by ingesting toxic methyl mercury, which was contained in wastewater discharged from a local chemical corporation into the Yatsushiro Sea, an inland sea. This chemical accumulates and becomes concentrated up the food chain, in fish and ultimately in humans who ate fish daily. The first patient was reported in 1956, and the disease was officially certified as a pollution-related disease by the government in 1964. As of February 2002, 2,265 victims of the disease had been officially certified under the Law Concerning Pollution-Related Health Damage Compensation and Other Measures.
- Minamata Forum Tells of the Legacy of Industrial Pollution (Related JFS article)

Posted: 2006/07/26 11:15:56 AM
Japanese version