Minamata disease
Overview
 

, sometimes referred to as , is a neurological
Neurology
Neurology is a medical specialty dealing with disorders of the nervous system. Specifically, it deals with the diagnosis and treatment of all categories of disease involving the central, peripheral, and autonomic nervous systems, including their coverings, blood vessels, and all effector tissue,...

 syndrome caused by severe mercury poisoning
Mercury poisoning
Mercury poisoning is a disease caused by exposure to mercury or its compounds. Mercury is a heavy metal occurring in several forms, all of which can produce toxic effects in high enough doses...

. Symptoms include ataxia
Ataxia
Ataxia is a neurological sign and symptom that consists of gross lack of coordination of muscle movements. Ataxia is a non-specific clinical manifestation implying dysfunction of the parts of the nervous system that coordinate movement, such as the cerebellum...

, numbness in the hands and feet, general muscle weakness
Muscle weakness
Muscle weakness or myasthenia is a lack of muscle strength. The causes are many and can be divided into conditions that have true or perceived muscle weakness...

, narrowing of the field of vision
Field of view
The field of view is the extent of the observable world that is seen at any given moment....

 and damage to hearing
Hearing (sense)
Hearing is the ability to perceive sound by detecting vibrations through an organ such as the ear. It is one of the traditional five senses...

 and speech
Manner of articulation
In linguistics, manner of articulation describes how the tongue, lips, jaw, and other speech organs are involved in making a sound. Often the concept is only used for the production of consonants, even though the movement of the articulars will also greatly alter the resonant properties of the...

. In extreme cases, insanity
Insanity
Insanity, craziness or madness is a spectrum of behaviors characterized by certain abnormal mental or behavioral patterns. Insanity may manifest as violations of societal norms, including becoming a danger to themselves and others, though not all such acts are considered insanity...

, paralysis
Paralysis
Paralysis is loss of muscle function for one or more muscles. Paralysis can be accompanied by a loss of feeling in the affected area if there is sensory damage as well as motor. A study conducted by the Christopher & Dana Reeve Foundation, suggests that about 1 in 50 people have been diagnosed...

, coma
Coma
In medicine, a coma is a state of unconsciousness, lasting more than 6 hours in which a person cannot be awakened, fails to respond normally to painful stimuli, light or sound, lacks a normal sleep-wake cycle and does not initiate voluntary actions. A person in a state of coma is described as...

, and death
Death
Death is the permanent termination of the biological functions that sustain a living organism. Phenomena which commonly bring about death include old age, predation, malnutrition, disease, and accidents or trauma resulting in terminal injury....

 follow within weeks of the onset of symptoms. A congenital form of the disease can also affect fetus
Fetus
A fetus is a developing mammal or other viviparous vertebrate after the embryonic stage and before birth.In humans, the fetal stage of prenatal development starts at the beginning of the 11th week in gestational age, which is the 9th week after fertilization.-Etymology and spelling variations:The...

es in the womb.

Minamata disease was first discovered in Minamata
Minamata, Kumamoto
is a city located in Kumamoto prefecture, Japan. It is on the west coast of Kyūshū. The city was founded on April 1, 1949.As of 2008, the city has an estimated population of 27,856 and the density of 171 persons per km²...

 city in Kumamoto prefecture
Kumamoto Prefecture
is a prefecture of Japan located on Kyushu Island. The capital is the city of Kumamoto.- History :Historically the area was called Higo Province; and the province was renamed Kumamoto during the Meiji Restoration. The creation of prefectures was part of the abolition of the feudal system...

, Japan
Japan
Japan is an island nation in East Asia. Located in the Pacific Ocean, it lies to the east of the Sea of Japan, China, North Korea, South Korea and Russia, stretching from the Sea of Okhotsk in the north to the East China Sea and Taiwan in the south...

 in 1956.
Unanswered Questions
Quotations

"It is the pain of the still-necessity humility and obsequiousness toward authorities who have done nothing to help them, added to the suffering caused by the pollution, that makes the protesters heroes..."

George calls the victims heroes because despite all they endured, there were still some who would not give up. p. 90.

"The importance of the court victory for the patients in the Trial Group went beyond financial compensation. To them, the court victory meant recognition that their complaints were just and that they were owed restitution by a system that had no right to exclude them."

George on Compensation. p. 249.

"[f]irst, direct negotiations with the company would be attempted; if they failed, the society would seek mediation. Only as a last resort, if mediation failed, would they sue."

George on suing as a last resort. p. 191.

Encyclopedia

, sometimes referred to as , is a neurological
Neurology
Neurology is a medical specialty dealing with disorders of the nervous system. Specifically, it deals with the diagnosis and treatment of all categories of disease involving the central, peripheral, and autonomic nervous systems, including their coverings, blood vessels, and all effector tissue,...

 syndrome caused by severe mercury poisoning
Mercury poisoning
Mercury poisoning is a disease caused by exposure to mercury or its compounds. Mercury is a heavy metal occurring in several forms, all of which can produce toxic effects in high enough doses...

. Symptoms include ataxia
Ataxia
Ataxia is a neurological sign and symptom that consists of gross lack of coordination of muscle movements. Ataxia is a non-specific clinical manifestation implying dysfunction of the parts of the nervous system that coordinate movement, such as the cerebellum...

, numbness in the hands and feet, general muscle weakness
Muscle weakness
Muscle weakness or myasthenia is a lack of muscle strength. The causes are many and can be divided into conditions that have true or perceived muscle weakness...

, narrowing of the field of vision
Field of view
The field of view is the extent of the observable world that is seen at any given moment....

 and damage to hearing
Hearing (sense)
Hearing is the ability to perceive sound by detecting vibrations through an organ such as the ear. It is one of the traditional five senses...

 and speech
Manner of articulation
In linguistics, manner of articulation describes how the tongue, lips, jaw, and other speech organs are involved in making a sound. Often the concept is only used for the production of consonants, even though the movement of the articulars will also greatly alter the resonant properties of the...

. In extreme cases, insanity
Insanity
Insanity, craziness or madness is a spectrum of behaviors characterized by certain abnormal mental or behavioral patterns. Insanity may manifest as violations of societal norms, including becoming a danger to themselves and others, though not all such acts are considered insanity...

, paralysis
Paralysis
Paralysis is loss of muscle function for one or more muscles. Paralysis can be accompanied by a loss of feeling in the affected area if there is sensory damage as well as motor. A study conducted by the Christopher & Dana Reeve Foundation, suggests that about 1 in 50 people have been diagnosed...

, coma
Coma
In medicine, a coma is a state of unconsciousness, lasting more than 6 hours in which a person cannot be awakened, fails to respond normally to painful stimuli, light or sound, lacks a normal sleep-wake cycle and does not initiate voluntary actions. A person in a state of coma is described as...

, and death
Death
Death is the permanent termination of the biological functions that sustain a living organism. Phenomena which commonly bring about death include old age, predation, malnutrition, disease, and accidents or trauma resulting in terminal injury....

 follow within weeks of the onset of symptoms. A congenital form of the disease can also affect fetus
Fetus
A fetus is a developing mammal or other viviparous vertebrate after the embryonic stage and before birth.In humans, the fetal stage of prenatal development starts at the beginning of the 11th week in gestational age, which is the 9th week after fertilization.-Etymology and spelling variations:The...

es in the womb.

Minamata disease was first discovered in Minamata
Minamata, Kumamoto
is a city located in Kumamoto prefecture, Japan. It is on the west coast of Kyūshū. The city was founded on April 1, 1949.As of 2008, the city has an estimated population of 27,856 and the density of 171 persons per km²...

 city in Kumamoto prefecture
Kumamoto Prefecture
is a prefecture of Japan located on Kyushu Island. The capital is the city of Kumamoto.- History :Historically the area was called Higo Province; and the province was renamed Kumamoto during the Meiji Restoration. The creation of prefectures was part of the abolition of the feudal system...

, Japan
Japan
Japan is an island nation in East Asia. Located in the Pacific Ocean, it lies to the east of the Sea of Japan, China, North Korea, South Korea and Russia, stretching from the Sea of Okhotsk in the north to the East China Sea and Taiwan in the south...

 in 1956. It was caused by the release of methylmercury
Methylmercury
Methylmercury is an organometallic cation with the formula . It is a bioaccumulative environmental toxicant.-Structure:...

 in the industrial wastewater
Wastewater
Wastewater is any water that has been adversely affected in quality by anthropogenic influence. It comprises liquid waste discharged by domestic residences, commercial properties, industry, and/or agriculture and can encompass a wide range of potential contaminants and concentrations...

 from the Chisso Corporation
Chisso
The is a Japanese chemical company. It is particularly well known as a supplier of liquid crystal used for LCD displays.Chisso is also known for its thirty-four year long contamination of the water supply in Minamata, Japan that led to thousands of deaths and victims of disease...

's chemical factory, which continued from 1932 to 1968. This highly toxic chemical bioaccumulated
Bioaccumulation
Bioaccumulation refers to the accumulation of substances, such as pesticides, or other organic chemicals in an organism. Bioaccumulation occurs when an organism absorbs a toxic substance at a rate greater than that at which the substance is lost...

 in shellfish and fish in Minamata Bay
Minamata Bay
Minamata is a small factory town. Minamata Bay is a bay on the west coast of Kyūshū island, located in Kumamoto Prefecture, Japan. The bay is part of the larger Shiranui Sea which is sandwiched between the coast of the Kyūshū mainland and the off-lying islands of Kumamoto and Nagasaki...

 and the Shiranui Sea, which when eaten by the local populace resulted in mercury poisoning. While cat, dog, pig, and human deaths continued over more than 30 years, the government and company did little to prevent the pollution.

As of March 2001, 2,265 victims had been officially recognised (1,784 of whom had died) and over 10,000 had received financial compensation from Chisso. By 2004, Chisso Corporation had paid $86 million in compensation, and in the same year was ordered to clean up its contamination. On March 29, 2010, a settlement was reached to compensate as-yet uncertified victims.

A second outbreak of Minamata disease occurred in Niigata Prefecture
Niigata Prefecture
is a prefecture of Japan located on the island of Honshū on the coast of the Sea of Japan. The capital is the city of Niigata. The name "Niigata" literally means "new lagoon".- History :...

 in 1965. Both the original Minamata disease and Niigata Minamata disease
Niigata Minamata disease
' is a neurological syndrome caused by severe mercury poisoning. Identical in symptoms to the original outbreak of Minamata disease in Kumamoto Prefecture, the second outbreak in Niigata Prefecture was confirmed with the same name in 1965...

 are considered two of the Four Big Pollution Diseases of Japan
Four Big Pollution Diseases of Japan
The were a group of manmade diseases all caused by environmental pollution due to improper handling of industrial wastes by Japanese corporations. Although some cases of these diseases occurred as early as 1912, most occurred in the 1950s, 1960s, and 1970s....

.

1908–1955

The Chisso Corporation
Chisso
The is a Japanese chemical company. It is particularly well known as a supplier of liquid crystal used for LCD displays.Chisso is also known for its thirty-four year long contamination of the water supply in Minamata, Japan that led to thousands of deaths and victims of disease...

 first opened a chemical factory in Minamata in 1908. Initially producing fertilisers, the factory followed the nationwide expansion of Japan's chemical industry, branching out into production of acetylene
Acetylene
Acetylene is the chemical compound with the formula C2H2. It is a hydrocarbon and the simplest alkyne. This colorless gas is widely used as a fuel and a chemical building block. It is unstable in pure form and thus is usually handled as a solution.As an alkyne, acetylene is unsaturated because...

, acetaldehyde
Acetaldehyde
Acetaldehyde is an organic chemical compound with the formula CH3CHO or MeCHO. It is one of the most important aldehydes, occurring widely in nature and being produced on a large scale industrially. Acetaldehyde occurs naturally in coffee, bread, and ripe fruit, and is produced by plants as part...

, acetic acid
Acetic acid
Acetic acid is an organic compound with the chemical formula CH3CO2H . It is a colourless liquid that when undiluted is also called glacial acetic acid. Acetic acid is the main component of vinegar , and has a distinctive sour taste and pungent smell...

, vinyl chloride
Vinyl chloride
Vinyl chloride is the organochloride with the formula H2C:CHCl. It is also called vinyl chloride monomer, VCM or chloroethene. This colorless compound is an important industrial chemical chiefly used to produce the polymer polyvinyl chloride . At ambient pressure and temperature, vinyl chloride...

 and octanol
Octanol
Octanol is a straight chain fatty alcohol with eight carbon atoms and the molecular formula CH37OH. Although the term octanol usually refers exclusively to the primary alcohol 1-octanol, there are other less common isomers of octanol such as the secondary alcohols 2-octanol, 3-octanol and...

, among others. The Minamata factory became the most advanced in all of Japan, both before and after World War II
World War II
World War II, or the Second World War , was a global conflict lasting from 1939 to 1945, involving most of the world's nations—including all of the great powers—eventually forming two opposing military alliances: the Allies and the Axis...

. The waste products resulting from the manufacture of these chemicals were released into Minamata Bay through the factory wastewater
Wastewater
Wastewater is any water that has been adversely affected in quality by anthropogenic influence. It comprises liquid waste discharged by domestic residences, commercial properties, industry, and/or agriculture and can encompass a wide range of potential contaminants and concentrations...

. These pollutants had an environmental impact. Fisheries were damaged in terms of reduced catches, and in response, Chisso reached two separate compensation agreements with the fishery cooperative in 1926 and 1943.
The rapid expansion of the Minamata factory spurred on the local economy and as Chisso prospered, so did Minamata. This fact, combined with the lack of other industry, meant that Chisso had great influence in Minamata. At one point, over half of the tax revenue of Minamata City authority came from Chisso and its employees, and the company and its subsidiaries were responsible for creating a quarter of all jobs in Minamata. Minamata was even dubbed Chisso's "castle town", in reference to the capital cities of feudal lords who ruled Japan during the Edo period
Edo period
The , or , is a division of Japanese history which was ruled by the shoguns of the Tokugawa family, running from 1603 to 1868. The political entity of this period was the Tokugawa shogunate....

.

The Chisso Minamata factory first started acetaldehyde
Acetaldehyde
Acetaldehyde is an organic chemical compound with the formula CH3CHO or MeCHO. It is one of the most important aldehydes, occurring widely in nature and being produced on a large scale industrially. Acetaldehyde occurs naturally in coffee, bread, and ripe fruit, and is produced by plants as part...

 production in 1932, producing 210 tons that year. By 1951 production had jumped to 6,000 tons per year and reached a peak of 45,245 tons in 1960. Throughout, the Chisso factory's output amounted to between a quarter and a third of Japan's total acetaldehyde production. The chemical reaction
Chemical reaction
A chemical reaction is a process that leads to the transformation of one set of chemical substances to another. Chemical reactions can be either spontaneous, requiring no input of energy, or non-spontaneous, typically following the input of some type of energy, such as heat, light or electricity...

 used to produce the acetaldehyde used mercury sulfate
Mercury(II) sulfate
Mercury sulfate, commonly called mercuric sulfate is the chemical compound Hg S O4. It is an odorless solid that forms white granules or crystalline powder...

 as a catalyst. A side reaction of the catalytic cycle
Catalytic cycle
A catalytic cycle in chemistry is a term for a multistep reaction mechanism that involves a catalyst . The catalytic cycle is the main method for describing the role of catalysts in biochemistry, organometallic chemistry, materials science, etc. Often such cycles show the conversion of a...

 led to the production of a small amount of an organic mercury compound, namely methylmercury
Methylmercury
Methylmercury is an organometallic cation with the formula . It is a bioaccumulative environmental toxicant.-Structure:...

. This highly toxic compound was released into Minamata Bay from the start of production in 1932 until 1968, when this production method was discontinued.

1956–1959

On April 21, 1956, a five year-old girl was examined at the Chisso Corporation
Chisso
The is a Japanese chemical company. It is particularly well known as a supplier of liquid crystal used for LCD displays.Chisso is also known for its thirty-four year long contamination of the water supply in Minamata, Japan that led to thousands of deaths and victims of disease...

's factory hospital in Minamata
Minamata, Kumamoto
is a city located in Kumamoto prefecture, Japan. It is on the west coast of Kyūshū. The city was founded on April 1, 1949.As of 2008, the city has an estimated population of 27,856 and the density of 171 persons per km²...

, Japan
Japan
Japan is an island nation in East Asia. Located in the Pacific Ocean, it lies to the east of the Sea of Japan, China, North Korea, South Korea and Russia, stretching from the Sea of Okhotsk in the north to the East China Sea and Taiwan in the south...

, a town on the west coast of the southern island of Kyūshū
Kyushu
is the third largest island of Japan and most southwesterly of its four main islands. Its alternate ancient names include , , and . The historical regional name is referred to Kyushu and its surrounding islands....

. The physicians were puzzled by her symptoms: difficulty walking, difficulty speaking and convulsions. Two days later her younger sister also began to exhibit the same symptoms and she too was hospitalised. The girls' mother informed doctors that her neighbour's daughter was also experiencing similar problems. After a house-to-house investigation eight further patients were discovered and hospitalised. On May 1, the hospital director reported to the local public health office the discovery of an "epidemic
Epidemic
In epidemiology, an epidemic , occurs when new cases of a certain disease, in a given human population, and during a given period, substantially exceed what is expected based on recent experience...

 of an unknown disease of the central nervous system
Central nervous system
The central nervous system is the part of the nervous system that integrates the information that it receives from, and coordinates the activity of, all parts of the bodies of bilaterian animals—that is, all multicellular animals except sponges and radially symmetric animals such as jellyfish...

", marking the official discovery of Minamata disease.

To investigate the epidemic, the city government and various medical practitioners formed the at the end of May 1956. Owing to the localised nature of the disease, it was suspected to be contagious
Infectious disease
Infectious diseases, also known as communicable diseases, contagious diseases or transmissible diseases comprise clinically evident illness resulting from the infection, presence and growth of pathogenic biological agents in an individual host organism...

 and as a precaution patients were isolated and their homes disinfected. However, this contributed to the stigmatisation
Social stigma
Social stigma is the severe disapproval of or discontent with a person on the grounds of characteristics that distinguish them from other members of a society.Almost all stigma is based on a person differing from social or cultural norms...

 and discrimination
Discrimination
Discrimination is the prejudicial treatment of an individual based on their membership in a certain group or category. It involves the actual behaviors towards groups such as excluding or restricting members of one group from opportunities that are available to another group. The term began to be...

 experienced by Minamata victims from the local community. During its investigations, the committee uncovered surprising anecdotal evidence of the strange behaviour of cats and other wildlife in the areas surrounding patients' homes. From around 1950 onward, cats had been seen to have convulsions, go mad and die. Locals called it the , owing to their erratic movement. Crows had fallen from the sky, seaweed no longer grew on the sea bed and fish floated dead on the surface of the sea. As the extent of the outbreak was understood, the committee invited researchers from Kumamoto University
Kumamoto University
is a university located in Kumamoto, Japan. It was established on May 31, 1949, at which time the following institutions were subsumed into it; Kumamoto Teachers College , Kumamoto Pharmaceutical College , The Fifth High School , Kumamoto Medical College , and Kumamoto Technical College ....

 to help in the research effort.

The Kumamoto University Research Group was formed on August 24, 1956. Researchers from the School of Medicine began visiting Minamata regularly and admitted patients to the university hospital for detailed examinations. A more complete picture of the symptoms exhibited by patients was gradually uncovered. The disease developed without any prior warning, with patients complaining of a loss of sensation and numbness in their hands and feet. They became unable to grasp small objects or fasten buttons. They could not run or walk without stumbling, their voices changed in pitch and many patients complained of difficulties seeing, hearing and swallowing. In general these symptoms deteriorated and were followed by severe convulsions, coma
Coma
In medicine, a coma is a state of unconsciousness, lasting more than 6 hours in which a person cannot be awakened, fails to respond normally to painful stimuli, light or sound, lacks a normal sleep-wake cycle and does not initiate voluntary actions. A person in a state of coma is described as...

 and eventually death. By October 1956, 40 patients had been discovered, 14 of whom had died: an alarming mortality rate
Mortality rate
Mortality rate is a measure of the number of deaths in a population, scaled to the size of that population, per unit time...

 of 36.7%.

Finding the cause

Researchers from Kumamoto University also began to focus on the cause of the strange disease. They found that the victims, often members of the same family, were clustered in fishing hamlets along the shore of Minamata Bay. The staple food
Staple food
A staple food is one that is eaten regularly and in such quantities that it constitutes a dominant portion of a diet, and that supplies a high proportion of energy and nutrient needs. Most people live on a diet based on one or more staples...

 of victims was invariably fish
Fish
Fish are a paraphyletic group of organisms that consist of all gill-bearing aquatic vertebrate animals that lack limbs with digits. Included in this definition are the living hagfish, lampreys, and cartilaginous and bony fish, as well as various extinct related groups...

 and shellfish
Shellfish
Shellfish is a culinary and fisheries term for exoskeleton-bearing aquatic invertebrates used as food, including various species of molluscs, crustaceans, and echinoderms. Although most kinds of shellfish are harvested from saltwater environments, some kinds are found only in freshwater...

 from Minamata Bay. The cats in the local area, who tended to eat scraps from the family table, had died with symptoms similar to those now discovered in humans. This led the researchers to believe that the outbreak was caused by some kind of food poisoning
Foodborne illness
Foodborne illness is any illness resulting from the consumption of contaminated food, pathogenic bacteria, viruses, or parasites that contaminate food, as well as chemical or natural toxins such as poisonous mushrooms.-Causes:Foodborne illness usually arises from improper handling, preparation, or...

, with contaminated fish and shellfish being the prime suspects.

On November 4 the research group announced its initial findings: "Minamata disease is rather considered to be poisoning by a heavy metal... presumably it enters the human body mainly through fish and shellfish."

Identification of mercury


Methylmercury
Methylmercury
Methylmercury is an organometallic cation with the formula . It is a bioaccumulative environmental toxicant.-Structure:...

, an organic
Organic compound
An organic compound is any member of a large class of gaseous, liquid, or solid chemical compounds whose molecules contain carbon. For historical reasons discussed below, a few types of carbon-containing compounds such as carbides, carbonates, simple oxides of carbon, and cyanides, as well as the...

 mercury
Mercury (element)
Mercury is a chemical element with the symbol Hg and atomic number 80. It is also known as quicksilver or hydrargyrum...

 compound released in factory wastewater
Wastewater
Wastewater is any water that has been adversely affected in quality by anthropogenic influence. It comprises liquid waste discharged by domestic residences, commercial properties, industry, and/or agriculture and can encompass a wide range of potential contaminants and concentrations...

 and the cause of Minamata disease


As soon as the investigation identified a heavy metal
Heavy metals
A heavy metal is a member of a loosely-defined subset of elements that exhibit metallic properties. It mainly includes the transition metals, some metalloids, lanthanides, and actinides. Many different definitions have been proposed—some based on density, some on atomic number or atomic weight,...

 as the causal substance, the wastewater from the Chisso plant was immediately suspected as the origin. The company's own tests revealed that its wastewater contained many heavy metals in concentrations sufficiently high to bring about serious environmental degradation including lead
Lead
Lead is a main-group element in the carbon group with the symbol Pb and atomic number 82. Lead is a soft, malleable poor metal. It is also counted as one of the heavy metals. Metallic lead has a bluish-white color after being freshly cut, but it soon tarnishes to a dull grayish color when exposed...

, mercury
Mercury (element)
Mercury is a chemical element with the symbol Hg and atomic number 80. It is also known as quicksilver or hydrargyrum...

, manganese
Manganese
Manganese is a chemical element, designated by the symbol Mn. It has the atomic number 25. It is found as a free element in nature , and in many minerals...

, arsenic
Arsenic
Arsenic is a chemical element with the symbol As, atomic number 33 and relative atomic mass 74.92. Arsenic occurs in many minerals, usually in conjunction with sulfur and metals, and also as a pure elemental crystal. It was first documented by Albertus Magnus in 1250.Arsenic is a metalloid...

, selenium
Selenium
Selenium is a chemical element with atomic number 34, chemical symbol Se, and an atomic mass of 78.96. It is a nonmetal, whose properties are intermediate between those of adjacent chalcogen elements sulfur and tellurium...

, thallium
Thallium
Thallium is a chemical element with the symbol Tl and atomic number 81. This soft gray poor metal resembles tin but discolors when exposed to air. The two chemists William Crookes and Claude-Auguste Lamy discovered thallium independently in 1861 by the newly developed method of flame spectroscopy...

 and copper
Copper
Copper is a chemical element with the symbol Cu and atomic number 29. It is a ductile metal with very high thermal and electrical conductivity. Pure copper is soft and malleable; an exposed surface has a reddish-orange tarnish...

. Identifying which particular poison was responsible for the disease proved to be extremely difficult and time consuming. During the years 1957 and 1958, many different theories were proposed by different researchers. At first, manganese was thought to be the causal substance due to the high concentrations found in fish and the organs
Organ (anatomy)
In biology, an organ is a collection of tissues joined in structural unit to serve a common function. Usually there is a main tissue and sporadic tissues . The main tissue is the one that is unique for the specific organ. For example, main tissue in the heart is the myocardium, while sporadic are...

 of the deceased. Thallium, selenium and a multiple contaminant theory were also proposed but it was not until March 1958, when visiting British neurologist
Neurologist
A neurologist is a physician who specializes in neurology, and is trained to investigate, or diagnose and treat neurological disorders.Neurology is the medical specialty related to the human nervous system. The nervous system encompasses the brain, spinal cord, and peripheral nerves. A specialist...

 Douglas McAlpine suggested that Minamata symptoms resembled those of organic
Organic compound
An organic compound is any member of a large class of gaseous, liquid, or solid chemical compounds whose molecules contain carbon. For historical reasons discussed below, a few types of carbon-containing compounds such as carbides, carbonates, simple oxides of carbon, and cyanides, as well as the...

 mercury poisoning
Mercury poisoning
Mercury poisoning is a disease caused by exposure to mercury or its compounds. Mercury is a heavy metal occurring in several forms, all of which can produce toxic effects in high enough doses...

, that the focus of the investigation centered on mercury.

In February 1959, the mercury distribution in Minamata Bay was investigated. The results shocked the researchers involved. Large quantities of mercury were detected in fish, shellfish and sludge
Sludge
Sludge refers to the residual, semi-solid material left from industrial wastewater, or sewage treatment processes. It can also refer to the settled suspension obtained from conventional drinking water treatment, and numerous other industrial processes...

 from the bay. The highest concentrations centred around the Chisso factory wastewater canal in Hyakken Harbour and decreased going out to sea, clearly identifying the plant as the source of contamination. At the mouth of the wastewater canal, a figure of 2 kg of mercury per ton of sediment was measured: a level that would be economically viable to mine. However, Chisso did later set up a subsidiary to reclaim and sell the mercury recovered from the sludge.

Hair samples were taken from the victims of the disease and also from the Minamata population in general. In patients the maximum mercury level recorded was 705 ppm (parts per million), indicating very heavy exposure and in non-symptomatic Minamata residents the level was 191 ppm. This compared to an average level of 4 ppm for people living outside the Minamata area.

On November 12, 1959, the Ministry of Health and Welfare
Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare (Japan)
The ' is a cabinet level ministry of the Japanese government. It is commonly known as Kōrō-shō in Japan. This ministry provides regulations on maximum residue limits for agricultural chemicals in foods, basic food and drug regulations, standards for foods, food additives, etc.It was formed with...

's Minamata Food Poisoning Subcommittee published its results:
"Minamata disease is a poisoning disease that affects mainly the central nervous system and is caused by the consumption of large quantities of fish and shellfish living in Minamata Bay and its surroundings, the major causative agent being some sort of organic mercury compound."

1959

During the investigation by researchers at Kumamoto University
Kumamoto University
is a university located in Kumamoto, Japan. It was established on May 31, 1949, at which time the following institutions were subsumed into it; Kumamoto Teachers College , Kumamoto Pharmaceutical College , The Fifth High School , Kumamoto Medical College , and Kumamoto Technical College ....

, the causal substance had been identified as a heavy metal and it was widely presumed that the Chisso plant was the source of the contamination. Chisso was coming under closer scrutiny and in order to deflect criticism the wastewater output route was changed. Chisso knew of the environmental damage caused by its wastewater and was well aware that it was the prime suspect in the Minamata disease investigation. Despite this, from September 1958, instead of discharging its waste into Hyakken Harbour (the focus of investigation and source of original contamination), it discharged wastewater directly into Minamata River. The immediate effect was the death of fish at the mouth of the river, and from that point on new Minamata disease victims began to appear in other fishing villages up and down the coast of the Shiranui Sea, as the pollution spread over an even greater area.

Chisso failed to co-operate with the investigation team from Kumamoto University. It withheld information on its industrial processes, leaving researchers to speculate what products the factory was producing and by what methods. The Chisso factory's hospital director, Hajime Hosokawa
Hajime Hosokawa
' was director of the company hospital attached to the Chisso corporation's chemical factory in Minamata, Kumamoto prefecture, Japan. He was the first doctor to discover and treat patients of the massive outbreak of mercury poisoning that occurred in the town which became known as Minamata...

, established a laboratory in the research division of the plant to carry out his own experiments into Minamata disease in July 1959. Food to which factory wastewater had been added was fed to healthy cats. Seventy-eight days into the experiment cat 400 exhibited symptoms of Minamata disease and pathological examinations confirmed a diagnosis of organic mercury poisoning. The company did not reveal these significant results to the investigators and ordered Hosokawa to stop his research.

In an attempt to undermine Kumamoto University researchers' organic mercury theory, Chisso and other parties with a vested interest that the factory remain open (including the Ministry of International Trade and Industry
Ministry of International Trade and Industry
The Ministry of International Trade and Industry was one of the most powerful agencies of the Government of Japan. At the height of its influence, it effectively ran much of Japanese industrial policy, funding research and directing investment...

 and the Japan Chemical Industry Association) funded research into alternative causes of the disease, other than its own waste.

Compensation of fishermen and patients, 1959

Polluting wastewater had damaged the fisheries around Minamata ever since the opening of the Chisso factory in 1908. The Minamata Fishing Cooperative had managed to win small payments of from the company in 1926 and again in 1943, but after the outbreak of Minamata disease the fishing situation was becoming critical. Fishing catches had declined by 91% between the years 1953 and 1957. The Kumamoto
Kumamoto Prefecture
is a prefecture of Japan located on Kyushu Island. The capital is the city of Kumamoto.- History :Historically the area was called Higo Province; and the province was renamed Kumamoto during the Meiji Restoration. The creation of prefectures was part of the abolition of the feudal system...

 prefectural government issued a partial ban on the sale of fish caught in the heavily polluted Minamata Bay, but not an all-out ban, which would have legally obliged it to compensate the fishermen. The fishing cooperative protested against Chisso and angrily forced their way into the factory on 6 August and 12 August, demanding compensation. A committee was set up by Minamata Mayor Todomu Nakamura to mediate between the two sides but this committee was stacked heavily in the company's favour. On 29 August the fishing cooperative agreed to the mediation committee's proposal, stating: "In order to end the anxiety of the citizens, we swallow our tears and accept". The company paid the cooperative JPY20 million (USD55,600) and set up a JPY15 million (USD41,700) fund to promote the recovery of fishing.

Since the change of route of wastewater output in 1958, pollution had spread up and down the Shiranui Sea, damaging fisheries there too. Emboldened by the success of the small Minamata cooperative, the Kumamoto Prefectural Alliance of Fishing Cooperatives also decided to seek compensation from Chisso. On 17 October, 1,500 fishermen from the alliance descended on the factory to demand negotiations. When this produced no results the alliance members took their campaign to Tokyo
Tokyo
, ; officially , is one of the 47 prefectures of Japan. Tokyo is the capital of Japan, the center of the Greater Tokyo Area, and the largest metropolitan area of Japan. It is the seat of the Japanese government and the Imperial Palace, and the home of the Japanese Imperial Family...

, securing an official visit to Minamata by members of the Japanese Diet
Diet of Japan
The is Japan's bicameral legislature. It is composed of a lower house, called the House of Representatives, and an upper house, called the House of Councillors. Both houses of the Diet are directly elected under a parallel voting system. In addition to passing laws, the Diet is formally...

. During the visit on 2 November alliance members forced their way into the factory and rioted, causing many injuries and JPY10 million (USD27,800) worth of damage. The violence was covered widely in the media, bringing the nation's attention to the Minamata issue for the first time since the outbreak began. Another mediation committee was set up, an agreement hammered out and signed on 17 December. JPY25 million "sympathy money" was paid to the alliance and a JPY65 million fishing recovery fund established.

In 1959, the victims of Minamata disease were in a much weaker position than the fishermen. The recently formed Minamata Disease Patients Families Mutual Aid Society was much more divided than the fishing cooperatives. Patients' families were the victim of discrimination
Discrimination
Discrimination is the prejudicial treatment of an individual based on their membership in a certain group or category. It involves the actual behaviors towards groups such as excluding or restricting members of one group from opportunities that are available to another group. The term began to be...

 and ostracism from the local community. Local people felt that the company (and their city that depended upon it) was facing economic ruin. To some patients this ostracism by the community represented a greater fear than the disease itself. After beginning a sit-in
Sit-in
A sit-in or sit-down is a form of protest that involves occupying seats or sitting down on the floor of an establishment.-Process:In a sit-in, protesters remain until they are evicted, usually by force, or arrested, or until their requests have been met...

 at the factory gates in November 1959 the patients asked Kumamoto Prefecture
Kumamoto Prefecture
is a prefecture of Japan located on Kyushu Island. The capital is the city of Kumamoto.- History :Historically the area was called Higo Province; and the province was renamed Kumamoto during the Meiji Restoration. The creation of prefectures was part of the abolition of the feudal system...

 Governor Hirosaku Teramoto to include the patients' request for compensation with the mediation that was ongoing with the prefectural fishing alliance. Chisso agreed and after a few weeks' further negotiation, another "sympathy money" agreement was signed. Patients who were certified by a Ministry of Health and Welfare
Ministry of Health and Welfare
-External links:*...

 committee would be compensated: adult patients received JPY100,000 (USD278) per year; children JPY30,000 (USD83) per year and families of dead patients would receive a one-off JPY320,000 (USD889) payment.

Wastewater treatment

On October 21, 1959, Chisso was ordered by the Ministry of International Trade and Industry to switch back its wastewater drainage from the Minamata River to Hyakken Harbour and to speed up the installation of wastewater treatment systems at the factory. Chisso installed a Cyclator purification system on December 19, 1959, and opened it with a special ceremony. Chisso's president Kiichi Yoshioka drank a glass of water supposedly treated through the Cyclator to demonstrate that it was safe. In fact, the wastewater from the acetaldehyde plant, which the company knew still contained mercury and led to Minamata disease when fed to cats, was not treated through the Cyclator at the time. Testimony at a later Niigata Minamata disease
Niigata Minamata disease
' is a neurological syndrome caused by severe mercury poisoning. Identical in symptoms to the original outbreak of Minamata disease in Kumamoto Prefecture, the second outbreak in Niigata Prefecture was confirmed with the same name in 1965...

 trial proved that Chisso knew the Cyclator to be completely ineffective: "...the purification tank was installed as a social solution and did nothing to remove organic mercury."

The deception was successful and almost all parties involved in Minamata disease were duped into believing that the factory's wastewater had been made safe from December 1959 on. This widespread assumption meant that doctors were not expecting new patients to appear, resulting in numerous problems in the years to follow, as the pollution continued. In most people's minds, the issue of Minamata disease had been resolved.

1959-69

The years between the first set of "sympathy money" agreements in 1959 and the start of the first legal action to be taken against Chisso in 1969 are often called the "ten years of silence". In fact, much activity on the part of the patients and fishermen took place during this period but nothing had a significant impact on the actions of the company or the coverage of Minamata in the national media.

Continued pollution

Despite the almost universal assumption to the contrary, the wastewater treatment facilities installed in December 1959 had no effect on the level of organic mercury being released into the Shiranui Sea. The pollution and the disease it caused continued to spread. The Kumamoto
Kumamoto Prefecture
is a prefecture of Japan located on Kyushu Island. The capital is the city of Kumamoto.- History :Historically the area was called Higo Province; and the province was renamed Kumamoto during the Meiji Restoration. The creation of prefectures was part of the abolition of the feudal system...

 and Kagoshima
Kagoshima Prefecture
is a prefecture of Japan located on the island of Kyushu. The capital is the city of Kagoshima.- Geography :Kagoshima Prefecture is located at the southwest tip of Kyushu and includes a chain of islands stretching further to the southwest for a few hundred kilometers...

 prefectural governments conducted a joint survey in late 1960 and early 1961 into the level of mercury in the hair of people living around the Shiranui Sea. The results confirmed that organic mercury had spread all around the inland sea and that people were still being poisoned by contaminated fish. Hundreds of people were discovered to have levels greater than 50 ppm of mercury in their hair, the level at which people are likely to experience nerve damage. The highest result recorded was that of a woman from Goshonoura island who had 920 ppm in her sample.

The prefectural governments did not publish the results and did nothing in response to these surveys. The participants who had donated hair samples were not informed of their result, even when they requested it. A follow-up study ten years later discovered that many had died from "unknown causes".

Congenital Minamata disease

Local doctors and medical officials had noticed for a long time an abnormally high frequency of cerebral palsy
Cerebral palsy
Cerebral palsy is an umbrella term encompassing a group of non-progressive, non-contagious motor conditions that cause physical disability in human development, chiefly in the various areas of body movement....

 and other infantile disorders in the Minamata area. In 1961 a number of medical professionals including Masazumi Harada
Masazumi Harada
is a Japanese doctor and medical researcher. His most famous work has been into the effects of Minamata disease, a type of severe mercury poisoning that occurred in the city of Minamata, Kumamoto Prefecture during the 1950s and 1960s...

 (later to receive an honour from the United Nations
Global 500 Roll of Honour
The United Nations Environment Programme established the Global 500 Roll of Honour in 1987 to recognize the environmental achievements of individuals and organizations around the world.The last Global 500 Roll of Honour awards were made in 2003...

 for his body of work on Minamata disease) set about re-examining children diagnosed with cerebral palsy. The symptoms of the children closely mirrored those of adult Minamata disease patients but many of their mothers did not exhibit symptoms. The fact that these children had been born after the initial outbreak and had never been fed contaminated fish also led their mothers to believe they were not victims. At the time the medical establishment believed the placenta
Placenta
The placenta is an organ that connects the developing fetus to the uterine wall to allow nutrient uptake, waste elimination, and gas exchange via the mother's blood supply. "True" placentas are a defining characteristic of eutherian or "placental" mammals, but are also found in some snakes and...

 would protect the foetus from toxins in the bloodstream, which is indeed the case with most chemicals. What was not known at the time was that exactly the opposite is the case with methylmercury: the placenta removes it from the mother's bloodstream and concentrates the chemical in the fetus.

After several years of study and the autopsies of two children, the doctors announced that these children were suffering from an as yet unrecognised congenital form of Minamata disease. The certification committee convened on 29 November 1962 and agreed that the two dead children and the 16 children still alive should be certified as patients, and therefore liable for "sympathy" payments from Chisso, in line with the 1959 agreement.

Outbreak of Niigata Minamata disease

Minamata disease broke out again in 1965, this time along the banks of the Agano River
Agano River
The Agano River is a river which flows from Fukushima Prefecture to Niigata Prefecture in Japan. It is called the Aga River or the Ōkawa River in Fukushima. It is 210km long with 7,710km² watershed....

 in Niigata Prefecture
Niigata Prefecture
is a prefecture of Japan located on the island of Honshū on the coast of the Sea of Japan. The capital is the city of Niigata. The name "Niigata" literally means "new lagoon".- History :...

. The polluting factory (owned by Showa Denko
Showa Denko
is a leading Japanese chemical engineering firm.Formed in 1939 by the merger of Nihon Electrical Industries and Showa Fertilizers, Showa Denko K.K. manufactures chemical products and industrial materials. SDK's products serve a wide array of fields ranging from heavy industry to the electronic...

) employed a chemical process using a mercury catalyst very similar to that used by Chisso in Minamata. As in Minamata, from the autumn of 1964 to the spring of 1965, cats living along the banks of the Agano River had been seen to go mad and die. Before long patients appeared with identical symptoms to patients living on the Shiranui Sea, and the outbreak was made public on 12 June 1965. Researchers from the Kumamoto University Research Group and Hajime Hosokawa
Hajime Hosokawa
' was director of the company hospital attached to the Chisso corporation's chemical factory in Minamata, Kumamoto prefecture, Japan. He was the first doctor to discover and treat patients of the massive outbreak of mercury poisoning that occurred in the town which became known as Minamata...

 (who had retired from Chisso in 1962) used their experience from Minamata and applied it to the Niigata outbreak. In September 1966 a report was issued proving Showa Denko's pollution to be the cause of this second Minamata disease.

Unlike the patients in Minamata, the victims of Showa Denko's pollution lived a considerable distance from the factory and had no particular link to the company. As a result the local community was much more supportive of patients' groups and a lawsuit was filed against the company in March 1968, only three years after discovery.

The events in Niigata catalysed a change in response to the original Minamata incident. The scientific research carried out in Niigata forced a re-examination of that done in Minamata and the decision of Niigata patients to sue the polluting company allowed the same response to be considered in Minamata. Masazumi Harada has said that, "It may sound strange, but if this second Minamata disease had not broken out, the medical and social progress achieved by now in Kumamoto... would have been impossible."

Around this time two other pollution-related diseases were also grabbing headlines in Japan. Victims of Yokkaichi asthma
Yokkaichi Asthma
Yokkaichi asthma, one of the Four Big Pollution Diseases of Japan, occurred in the city of Yokkaichi in Mie Prefecture, Japan between 1960 and 1972...

 and Itai-itai disease
Itai-itai disease
, was the documented case of mass cadmium poisoning in Toyama Prefecture, Japan, starting around 1912. The cadmium poisoning caused softening of the bones and kidney failure. The disease is named for the severe pains caused in the joints and spine. The term itai-itai disease was coined by locals...

 were forming citizens' groups and filed lawsuits against the polluting companies in September 1967 and March 1968, respectively. As a group, these diseases came to be known as the Four Big Pollution Diseases of Japan
Four Big Pollution Diseases of Japan
The were a group of manmade diseases all caused by environmental pollution due to improper handling of industrial wastes by Japanese corporations. Although some cases of these diseases occurred as early as 1912, most occurred in the 1950s, 1960s, and 1970s....

.

Slowly but surely, the mood in Minamata and Japan as a whole was shifting. Minamata patients found the public gradually becoming more receptive and sympathetic as the decade wore on. This culminated in 1968 with the establishment in Minamata of the Citizens' Council for Minamata Disease Countermeasures, which was to become the chief citizens' support group to the Minamata patients. A founding member of the citizens' council was Michiko Ishimure
Michiko Ishimure
is a Japanese writer.In 1973 she won the Ramon Magsaysay Award for publicizing writings about the Minamata disease in Minamata.-External links:*...

, a local housewife and poet who later that year published a book of poetic essays that received national acclaim.

Official government recognition

Finally on 26 September 1968 — twelve years after the discovery of the disease (and four months after Chisso had stopped production of acetaldehyde using its mercury catalyst) — the government issued an official conclusion as to the cause of Minamata disease:
"Minamata disease is a disease of the central nervous system, a poisoning caused by long-term consumption, in large amounts, of fish and shellfish from Minamata Bay. The causative agent is methylmercury. Methylmercury produced in the acetaldehyde acetic acid facility of Shin Nihon Chisso's Minamata factory was discharged in factory wastewater... Minamata disease patients last appeared in 1960, and the outbreak has ended. This is presumed to be because consumption of fish and shellfish from Minamata Bay was banned in the fall of 1957, and the fact that the factory had waste-treatment facilities in place from January 1960."


The conclusion contained many factual errors: eating fish and shellfish from other areas of the Shiranui Sea, not just Minamata Bay, could cause the disease; eating small amounts, as well as large amounts of contaminated fish over a long time also produced symptoms; the outbreak had not in fact "ended" in 1960 nor had mercury-removing wastewater facilities been installed in January 1960. Nevertheless, the government announcement brought a feeling of relief to a great many victims and their families. Many felt vindicated in their long struggle to force Chisso to accept responsibility for causing the disease and expressed thanks that their plight had been recognised by their social superiors. The struggle now focused on to what extent the victims should be compensated.

Struggle for a new agreement

In light of the government announcement, the patients of the Mutual Aid Society decided to ask for a new compensation agreement with Chisso and submitted the demand on 6 October. The company replied that it was unable to judge what would be fair compensation and asked the national government to set up a binding arbitration committee to decide. This proposal split the members of the patients' society, many of whom were extremely wary of entrusting their fate to a third party, as they had done in 1959 with unfortunate results. At a meeting on 5 April 1969 the opposing views within the society could not be reconciled and the organisation split into the Arbitration Group (who were willing to accept binding arbitration) and the Litigation Group (who decided to sue the company). That summer Chisso sent gifts to the families who opted for arbitration rather than litigation.

An arbitration committee was duly set up by the Ministry of Health and Welfare
Ministry of Health and Welfare
-External links:*...

 on 25 April, but it took almost a year to draw up a draft compensation plan. A newspaper leak in March 1970 revealed that the committee would ask Chisso to pay only JPY2 million (USD5,600) for dead patients and JPY140,000 to JPY200,000 (USD390 to USD560) per year to surviving patients. The Arbitration Group were dismayed by the sums on offer. They petitioned the committee, together with patients and supporters of the Litigation Group, for a fairer deal. The arbitration committee announced their compensation plan on 25 May in a disorderly session at the Ministry of Health and Welfare in Tokyo. Thirteen protesters were arrested. Instead of accepting the agreement as they had promised, the Arbitration Group asked for increases. The committee was forced to revise its plan and the patients waited inside the Ministry building for two days while they did so. The final agreement was signed on 27 May. Payments for deaths ranged from JPY1.7 million to JPY4 million (USD4,700 to USD11,100), one-time payments from JPY1 million to JPY4.2 million (USD2,760 to USD11,660) and annual payments of between JPY170,000 and JPY380,000 (USD470 to USD1,100) for surviving patients. On the day of the signing, the Minamata Citizens' Council held a protest outside the Minamata factory gates. One of the Chisso trade unions held an eight-hour strike in protest at the poor treatment of the Arbitration Group by their own company.

The Litigation Group, representing 41 certified patients (17 already deceased) in 28 families, submitted their suit against Chisso in the Kumamoto District Court on 14 June 1969. The leader of the group, Eizō Watanabe (a former leader of the Mutual Aid Society), declared that, "Today, and from this day forth, we are fighting against the power of the state." Those who decided to sue the company came under fierce pressure to drop their lawsuits against the company. One woman was visited personally by a Chisso executive and harassed by her neighbours. She was ignored, her family's fishing boat used without permission, their fishing nets cut and human faeces thrown at her in the street.

The Litigation Group and their lawyers were helped substantially by an informal national network of citizens' groups that sprung up around the country in 1969. The were instrumental in raising awareness and funds for the lawsuit. The Kumamoto branch in particular was especially helpful to the case. In September 1969, they set up a Trial Research Group, which included law professors, medical researchers (including Masazumi Harada
Masazumi Harada
is a Japanese doctor and medical researcher. His most famous work has been into the effects of Minamata disease, a type of severe mercury poisoning that occurred in the city of Minamata, Kumamoto Prefecture during the 1950s and 1960s...

), sociologists and even the housewife and poet Michiko Ishimure
Michiko Ishimure
is a Japanese writer.In 1973 she won the Ramon Magsaysay Award for publicizing writings about the Minamata disease in Minamata.-External links:*...

 to provide useful material to the lawyers to improve their legal arguments. In fact their report: Corporate Responsibility for Minamata Disease: Chisso's Illegal Acts, published in August 1970, formed the basis of the ultimately successful lawsuit.

The trial lasted almost four years. The Litigation Group lawyers sought to prove Chisso's corporate negligence
Negligence
Negligence is a failure to exercise the care that a reasonably prudent person would exercise in like circumstances. The area of tort law known as negligence involves harm caused by carelessness, not intentional harm.According to Jay M...

. Three main legal points had to be overcome to win the case. First, the lawyers had to show that methylmercury caused Minamata disease and that the company's factory was the source of pollution. The extensive research by Kumamoto University and the government conclusion meant that this point was proved quite easily. Second, could and should the company have anticipated the effect of its wastewater and should it have taken steps to prevent the tragedy (i.e., was the company negligent in its duty of care
Duty of care
In tort law, a duty of care is a legal obligation imposed on an individual requiring that they adhere to a standard of reasonable care while performing any acts that could foreseeably harm others. It is the first element that must be established to proceed with an action in negligence. The claimant...

)? Third, was the "sympathy money" agreement of 1959, which forbade the patients from claiming any further compensation, a legally binding contract?

The trial heard from patients and their families but the most important testimony came from Chisso executives and employees. The most dramatic testimony came from Hajime Hosokawa
Hajime Hosokawa
' was director of the company hospital attached to the Chisso corporation's chemical factory in Minamata, Kumamoto prefecture, Japan. He was the first doctor to discover and treat patients of the massive outbreak of mercury poisoning that occurred in the town which became known as Minamata...

 who spoke on 4 July 1970 from his hospital bed where he was dying of cancer. He explained his experiments with cats, including the infamous "cat 400," which developed Minamata disease after being fed factory wastewater. He also spoke of his opposition to the 1958 change in wastewater output route from Hyakken Harbour to Minamata River. His testimony was backed up by a colleague who also told how company officials had ordered them to halt their cat experiments in the autumn of 1959. Hajime Hosokawa died three months after giving his testimony. Former factory manager Eiichi Nishida admitted that the company put profits ahead of safety, resulting in dangerous working conditions and a lack of care with mercury. Former Chisso President Kiichi Yoshioka admitted that the company promoted a theory of dumped World War II
World War II
World War II, or the Second World War , was a global conflict lasting from 1939 to 1945, involving most of the world's nations—including all of the great powers—eventually forming two opposing military alliances: the Allies and the Axis...

 explosives even though it knew it to be unfounded.

The verdict handed down on 20 March 1973 represented a complete victory for the patients of the Litigation Group:
"The defendant's factory was a leading chemical plant with the most advanced technology and ... should have assured the safety of its wastewater. The defendant could have prevented the occurrence of Minamata disease or at least have kept it at a minimum. We cannot find that the defendant took any of the precautionary measures called for in this situation whatsoever. The presumption that the defendant had been negligent from beginning to end in discharging wastewater from its acetaldehyde plant is amply supported. The defendant cannot escape liability for negligence."


The "sympathy money" agreement was found to be invalid and Chisso was ordered to make one-time payments of JPY18 million (USD66,000) for each deceased patient and from JPY16 million to JPY 18 million (USD59,000 to USD66,000) for each surviving patient. The total compensation of JPY937 million (USD3.4 million) was the largest sum ever awarded by a Japanese court.

Uncertified patients' fight to be recognised

While the struggles of the arbitration and litigation groups against Chisso were continuing, a new group of Minamata disease sufferers emerged. In order to qualify for compensation under the 1959 agreement, patients had to be officially recognised by various ad hoc certification committees according to their symptoms. However, in an effort to limit the liability and financial burden on the company, these committees were sticking to a rigid interpretation of Minamata disease. They required that patients must exhibit all symptoms of Hunter-Russell Syndrome – the standard diagnosis of organic mercury poisoning at the time – which originated from an industrial accident in the United Kingdom in 1940. The committee certified only patients exhibiting explicit symptoms of the British syndrome, rather than basing their diagnosis on the disease in Japan. This resulted in many applicants being rejected by the committee, leaving them confused and frustrated.

Victims

As of March 2001, 2,265 victims have been officially certified (1,784 of whom have died) and over 10,000 people have received financial compensation from Chisso, although they are not recognised as official victims. The issue of quantifying the impact of Minamata disease is complicated, as a full epidemiological study has never been conducted and patients were ever recognised only if they voluntarily applied to a Certification Council in order to seek financial compensation. Many victims of Minamata disease faced discrimination
Discrimination
Discrimination is the prejudicial treatment of an individual based on their membership in a certain group or category. It involves the actual behaviors towards groups such as excluding or restricting members of one group from opportunities that are available to another group. The term began to be...

 and ostracism from the local community if they came out into the open about their symptoms. Some people feared the disease to be contagious
Contagious disease
A contagious disease is a subset category of infectious diseases , which are easily transmitted by physical contact with the person suffering the disease, or by their secretions or objects touched by them....

 and many local people were fiercely loyal to Chisso, depending on the company for their livelihoods. In this atmosphere sufferers were reluctant to come forward and seek certification. Despite these factors, over 17,000 people have applied to the Council for certification. Also, in recognising an applicant as a Minamata disease sufferer, the Certification Council qualified that patient to receive financial compensation from Chisso. As such, the Council has always been under immense pressure to reject claimants and minimise the financial burden placed on Chisso. Rather than being a Council of medical recognition, the decisions of the Council were always affected by the economic and political factors surrounding Minamata and the Chisso corporation. Furthermore, compensation of the victims led to continued strife in the community, including unfounded accusations that some of the people who sought compensation did not actually suffer from the disease.

Democratizing effects

According to Timothy S. George, the environmental protests that surrounded the disease appeared to aid in the democratization
Democratization
Democratization is the transition to a more democratic political regime. It may be the transition from an authoritarian regime to a full democracy, a transition from an authoritarian political system to a semi-democracy or transition from a semi-authoritarian political system to a democratic...

 of Japan. When the first cases were reported and subsequently suppressed, the rights of the victims were not recognised, and they were given no compensation. Instead, the afflicted were ostracised from their community due to ignorance about the disease, as people were afraid that it was contagious.

The people directly impacted by the pollution of Minamata Bay were not originally allowed to participate in actions that would affect their future. Disease victims, fishing families, and company employees were excluded from the debate. Progress occurred when Minamata victims were finally allowed to come to a meeting to discuss the issue. As a result, postwar Japan took a small step toward democracy.

Through the evolution of public sentiments, the victims and environmental protesters were able to acquire standing and proceed more effectively in their cause. The involvement of the press also aided the process of democratization because it caused more people to become aware of the facts of Minamata disease and the pollution that caused it.

Although the environmental protests did result in Japan becoming more democratized, it did not completely rid Japan of the system that first suppressed the fishermen and victims of Minamata disease.

Media

Photographic documentation of Minamata started in the early 1960s. One photographer who arrived in 1960 was Shisei Kuwabara
Shisei Kuwabara
is a photojournalist best known for his depiction of the effects of mercury poisoning on people in and near Minamata over a period of some forty years....

, straight from university and photo school. The first exhibition of his work in Minamata was held in the Fuji
Fujifilm
is a multinational photography and imaging company headquartered in Tokyo, Japan.Fujifilm's principal activities are the development, production, sale and servicing of color photographic film, digital cameras, photofinishing equipment, color paper, photofinishing chemicals, medical imaging...

 Photo Salon in Tokyo in 1962, and the first of his book-length anthologies Minamata was published in Japan in 1965. He has returned to Minamata many times since.

However, it was a dramatic photographic essay by W. Eugene Smith
W. Eugene Smith
William Eugene Smith was an American photojournalist known for his refusal to compromise professional standards and his brutally vivid World War II photographs.- Life and work :...

 that brought world attention to Minamata disease. He and his Japanese wife lived in Minamata from 1971 to 1973. The most famous and striking photo of the essay, Tomoko Uemura in Her Bath
Tomoko Uemura in Her Bath
Tomoko Uemura in Her Bath is a renowned photograph taken by famed American photojournalist W. Eugene Smith in 1971. Many commentators regard Tomoko as Smith's greatest work. The black-and-white photo depicts a mother cradling her severely deformed, naked daughter in a traditional Japanese bathing...

, (1972) shows Ryoko Uemura, holding her severely deformed daughter, Tomoko, in a Japanese bath chamber. Tomoko was poisoned by methylmercury
Methylmercury
Methylmercury is an organometallic cation with the formula . It is a bioaccumulative environmental toxicant.-Structure:...

 while still in the womb. The photo was very widely published. It was posed by Smith with the cooperation of Ryoko and Tomoko in order to dramatically illustrate the consequences of the disease. It has subsequently been withdrawn from circulation at the request of Tomoko's family, and therefore does not appear in recent anthologies of Smith's works. Smith and his wife were extremely dedicated to the cause of the victims of Minamata disease, closely documenting their struggle for recognition and right to compensation. Smith was himself attacked and seriously injured by Chisso employees in an incident in Goi, Ichihara
Ichihara
Ichihara may refer to:* Ichihara, Chiba*JEF United Ichihara Chiba, the city's football club* Ichihara Takayuki, sumo wrestler* Yūko Ichihara, manga character...

 city, near Tokyo
Tokyo
, ; officially , is one of the 47 prefectures of Japan. Tokyo is the capital of Japan, the center of the Greater Tokyo Area, and the largest metropolitan area of Japan. It is the seat of the Japanese government and the Imperial Palace, and the home of the Japanese Imperial Family...

 on January 7, 1972, in an attempt to stop the photographer from further revealing the issue to the world. The 54 year-old Smith survived the attack, but his sight in one eye deteriorated and his health never fully recovered before his death in 1978.

The prominent Japanese documentary film
Documentary film
Documentary films constitute a broad category of nonfictional motion pictures intended to document some aspect of reality, primarily for the purposes of instruction or maintaining a historical record...

maker Noriaki Tsuchimoto
Noriaki Tsuchimoto
was a Japanese documentary film director known for his films on Minamata disease and examinations of the effects of modernization on Asia. Tsuchimoto and Shinsuke Ogawa have been called the "two figures [that] tower over the landscape of Japanese documentary."-Early years:Tsuchimoto was born in...

 made a series of films, starting with Minamata: The Victims and Their World
Minamata: The Victims and Their World
is a Japanese documentary made in 1971 by Noriaki Tsuchimoto. It is the first in a series of independent documentaries that Tsuchimoto made of the mercury poisoning incident in Minamata, Japan.-Film content:...

 (1971), documenting the incident and siding with the victims in their struggle against Chisso and the government.

In popular culture

Toshiko Akiyoshi, touched by the plight of the fishing village, wrote a jazz suite, "Minamata" that was to be the central piece of the Toshiko Akiyoshi-Lew Tabackin Big Band's 1976 album on RCA, Insights . The piece was constructed in three parts, to musically reflect the tragedy - "Peaceful Village," "Prosperity & Consequence," and "Epilogue." Akiyoshi used Japanese vocalists to sing the Japanese lyrics of a tone poem that were part of the composition. The album won many awards in jazz circles, including Downbeats best album award, largely on the strength of this piece, which brought some further attention on the tragedy. Insights (Toshiko Akiyoshi – Lew Tabackin Big Band)

The song "Kepone Factory" on Dead Kennedys
Dead Kennedys
Dead Kennedys are an American punk rock band formed in San Francisco, California in 1978. The band became part of the American hardcore punk movement of the early 1980s. They gained a large underground fanbase in the international punk music scene....

' In God We Trust, Inc.
In God We Trust, Inc.
In God We Trust, Inc. is a hardcore punk EP by the Dead Kennedys; it is now reissued with the Plastic Surgery Disasters album. The thrashing, lightning-fast beats and shouted vocals, on the first six tracks, resembles Washington D.C.'s punk bands of the time; more than on any other Dead Kennedys...

 makes reference to the disaster in its chorus.

Minamata disease today

Minamata disease remains an important issue in contemporary Japanese society. Lawsuits against Chisso and the prefectural and national governments are still continuing and many regard the government responses to date as inadequate. The company's "historical overview" in its current website makes no mention of their role in the mass contamination of Minamata and the dreadful aftermath. Their 2004 Annual Report however reports an equivalent of about US$50 million (5,820 million yen) in "Minamata Disease Compensation Liabilities". From 2000 to 2003, the company also reported total compensation liabilities of over US$170 million. Their 2000 accounts also show that the Japanese
Government of Japan
The government of Japan is a constitutional monarchy where the power of the Emperor is very limited. As a ceremonial figurehead, he is defined by the 1947 constitution as "the symbol of the state and of the unity of the people". Power is held chiefly by the Prime Minister of Japan and other elected...

 and Kumamoto prefectural
Kumamoto Prefecture
is a prefecture of Japan located on Kyushu Island. The capital is the city of Kumamoto.- History :Historically the area was called Higo Province; and the province was renamed Kumamoto during the Meiji Restoration. The creation of prefectures was part of the abolition of the feudal system...

 governments waived an enormous US$560 million in related liabilities. Their FY2004 and FY2005 reports refer to Minamata disease as "Mad Hatter's Disease
Mad hatter disease
Mad hatter disease describes the symptoms of mercury poisoning, specifically its effect on the nervous system. These include paraesthesias, vision and hearing impairment, slurred speech, anxiety, hallucinations, irritability, depression, lack of coordination, and tremors. The condition was...

", a term coined from the mercury poisoning experienced by hat-makers of the last few centuries (cf Mad Hatter
Mad Hatter
Hatta, the Hatter is a fictional character in Lewis Carroll's Alice's Adventures in Wonderland and the story's sequel, Through the Looking-Glass. He is often referred to as the Mad Hatter, though this term was never used by Carroll...

).

A memorial service was held at the Minamata Disease Municipal Museum on 1 May 2006 to mark 50 years since the official discovery of the disease. Despite bad weather the service was attended by over 600 people, including Chisso chairman Shunkichi Goto and Environment Minister
Ministry of the Environment (Japan)
The ' of Japan was formed in 2001 from the sub-cabinet level Environmental Agency established in 1971. The minister is a member of the Cabinet and is chosen by the Prime Minister, usually from the Diet., the current is Goshi Hosono...

 Yuriko Koike
Yuriko Koike
is a Japanese politician, who was the Minister of Defense in the Cabinet of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, but resigned August 27, 2007 after only 54 days in office...

.

On Monday, March 29, 2010, a group of 2,123 uncertified victims reached a settlement with the government of Japan, the Kumamoto Prefectural government, and Chisso Corporation to receive individual lump sum payments of 2.1 million yen and monthly medical allowances.

Most congenital patients are now in their forties and fifties and their health is deteriorating. Their parents, who are often their only source of care, are into their seventies or eighties or already deceased. Often these patients find themselves tied to their own homes and the care of their family, in effective isolation from the local community. Some welfare facilities for patients do exist. One notable example is , a vocational training centre for congenital patients as well as other disabled people in the Minamata area. Hot House members are also involved in raising awareness of Minamata disease, often attending conferences and seminars as well as making regular visits to elementary schools throughout Kumamoto Prefecture
Kumamoto Prefecture
is a prefecture of Japan located on Kyushu Island. The capital is the city of Kumamoto.- History :Historically the area was called Higo Province; and the province was renamed Kumamoto during the Meiji Restoration. The creation of prefectures was part of the abolition of the feudal system...

.

Further reading


External links

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