50 years on, Minamata stigma lingers

JAPAN TIMES, JUNE 20, 2006
People with Minamata disease still face discrimination and prejudice half a century after the official recognition of the mercury-poisoning disease, they said at a public forum in Tokyo.
Speaking at the forum Sunday — in which more than 100 people, including patients and their supporters, took part — Hideki Sato, 51, head of a patients group, said there still are people who hesitate to reveal the disease, once considered rare and infectious, out of fear of discrimination.
“We want people to be aware that the disease is the origin of Japan’s pollution history,” said Sato, from Minamata, Kumamoto Prefecture.
The disease was caused by Chisso Corp., which discharged mercury-tainted waste water into Minamata Bay and contaminated fish used as food. The city of Minamata marked the 50th anniversary of the official recognition of the disease May 1.
Yukimi Kuramoto, 51, who grew up in the city, said: “I have been refused by hospitals in Chiba nine times when I showed a document that I am a Minamata disease patient. . . . They said they cannot take responsibility for treating me.
“One doctor even said, ‘Isn’t that an endemic disease? Go back to Minamata and go to a local hospital,’ ” she added.

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