Japan’s industry leaves a fatal legacy

01/23/2012
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Many decades on, Minamata “disease” continues to claim victims

TOKYO (majirox news) — Of those screened for Minamata-byō (Minamata “disease”) on Jan. 22, 90 percent displayed symptoms. The screening was carried out in Kumamoto and Kagoshima prefectures in Kyushu, and in Osaka and Okayama cities in Honshu, for 396 suspected sufferers aged between 40 and 90 years old.

The Shirunai Patients’ Association conducting the tests did so as the Ministry of the Environment is considering shutting the door on applications for aid by sufferers from the end of this March.

The “disease” is actually the result of mercury poisoning as the result of industrial pollution, and was first identified in Minamata City (Kagoshima Prefecture) in 1956. Symptoms range from numbness in hands and feet or over the entire body, through tunnel vision and impairment of speech and hearing, through to insanity, coma and death.

Methylmercury released as industrial waste from Chisso Corporation’s chemical factory from 1932 onwards was pinpointed the cause of the poisoning, but continued to be released for another twelve years following the initial identification. The accumulation of the toxin in fish and shellfish consumed by those in the area was the primary cause of the build-up in animals and humans in the area (the locals originally referred to it as “dancing cat disease”, referring to the bizarre behavior of these animals suffering from the poisoning). Thousands of people were affected, with many dying of the effects of the mercury.

A second outbreak of the “disease” occurred in 1965 in Niigata.

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