Tag Archives: Japan

Japan remembers Minamata victims

BBC NEWS
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Minamata disease patients and relatives march in Tokyo. Hundreds marched on Saturday to press for more help for sufferers
Events are taking place in Japan in memory of victims of a condition caused by mercury poisoning, 50 years after it was first officially reported.
A memorial was unveiled in the southern town of Minamata on Sunday, while a commemorative service is due on Monday.
The condition, Minamata disease, has claimed 2,000 lives, but thousands more say they have been affected by it.
The neurological disorder is linked to eating fish from waters polluted by mercury dumped by a chemical firm.
About 1,000 people, including bereaved families and Japanese Environment Minister Yuriko Koike, are expected to attend Monday’s event on Kyushu island, the Japanese news agency Kyodo reports.
Sufferers’ demands
In addition to those who died, nearly 1,000 people have been officially registered as having the condition since it was first diagnosed in Minamata on 1 May, 1956.
In October 2004, the Japanese Supreme Court ruled that the government was partly responsible for those affected by Minamata disease.
Symptoms include spasms, blurred vision and deformity among babies of poisoned mothers.
On Saturday, hundreds of people with the disease and their supporters marched in Tokyo to pressure the government into further expanding help to sufferers.
In the past week, the Japanese parliament announced plans to provide health care and compensation to those not yet officially recognised as victims of the neurological disorder.

Deadly pollution

The small town of Minamata is now forever linked with mercury poisoning.
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In the 1950s, local residents began complaining of numbness, slurred speech and strange behaviour.
Birds were seen literally dropping out of the sky and cats appeared to be behaving strangely.
By the late 1950s, the cause was apparent.
A local chemical manufacturer, Chisso, had been dumping mercury into Minamata bay.
This poisoned the fish, and then everyone and everything that ate the fish. By this point people were dying, and severe physical and mental side effects were being reported.
Nevertheless, Chisso continued to pump mercury into the sea until 1968, when the authorities finally declared that Minamata disease was a form of mercury poisoning.
BBC Monitoring selects and translates news from radio, television, press, news agencies and the internet from 150 countries in more than 70 languages. It is based in Caversham, UK, and has several bureaux abroad.

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Japan lawmakers make call for compensation

NEW CHINA TIMES
Japanese lawmakers called on the government Tuesday to provide compensation to thousands of unrecognized victims of Minamata disease, a debilitating disorder caused by eating fish tainted with mercury, ahead of the 50th anniversary of the official diagnosis of the illness.
After victims endured decades of social stigmatization, corporate bullying and legal battles, the Supreme Court in October 2004 held the government responsible for allowing the pollution to continue for years, and ordered it to compensate 37 plaintiffs who were among 12,000 officially unrecognized patients.
Following the ruling, the government last April announced plans to expand its support program for thousands of patients who weren’t previously eligible for government help.
The disease was named for Minamata Bay, where a Japanese chemical company, Chisso Corp., dumped tons of mercury compounds.
Since the 1950s, thousands of people have contracted the degenerative neurological disorder.
“The government must take the ruling seriously and implement measures steadily and comprehensively so that all the Minamata victims, who have endured pains both physically and mentally through the 50 long years, can live in peace and understanding,” said the nonbinding resolution, passed by Parliament’s lower house ahead of the 50th anniversary of the first government recognition of the disease on May 1.
The Supreme Court ruling ordered the government and Kumamoto prefecture (state) in southern Japan to provide compensation ranging from 1.5 million yen to 2.5 million yen (US$13,090 to US$21,820; euro10,590 to euro17,650) to each plaintiff.

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Minamata disease victims to be commemorated at new memorial

Thousands of Minamata disease victims will be commemorated at a newly installed memorial in a bayside park in the city of Minamata, Kumamoto Prefecture, Sunday on the eve of the 50th anniversary of the official recognition of the disease.
Some 300 participants, including children, will pay their respect through traditional dancing and drumming in front of the 2.5-meter-high memorial and offering flowers.
A memorial service will be held there Monday, with some 1,000 people, including the patients, bereaved families as well as Environment Minister Yuriko Koike attending.
In Kumamoto, Kagoshima and Niigata prefectures, 2,955 people have been recognized as patients, of whom 2,009 have died as of the end of last March, according to the Environment Ministry.
Prior to the 50th anniversary, both lower and upper houses in the Diet adopted resolutions to vow not to allow a repeat of the tragic pollution while urging the government to fully support the victims of the disease and their families.
Minamata disease, caused by mercury-laced wastewater from a synthetic resin factory of Chisso Corp. in Minamata, was officially recognized on May 1, 1956.
More than 3,800 unrecognized sufferers have applied for recognition as patients, stirring voices that the tragedy over Minamata disease is stil

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Koizumi apologizes for public hazard

(UPI Top Stories Via Thomson Dialog NewsEdge)Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi apologized in a statement Friday for the government’s failure to prevent the spread of environmental pollution.
Koizumi’s remarks were made Monday before the 50th anniversary of the recognition of what is known as Minamata disease.
It’s named after the area in Kumamoto Prefecture in southern Japan where chemical maker Chisso Corp. dumped tons of mercury-laden wastewater into the sea. In the 1950s hundreds of residents died, thousands were disabled and there were innumerable birth defects.
The issue of Minamata disease that occurred in the course of Japan’s rapid economic growth not only caused serious health hazards, but also inflicted a heavy sacrifice on local communities, Koizumi said, Kyodo News reported Friday.
On behalf of the government, we feel keen responsibility and frankly apologize for the failures to take appropriate steps for a long period and to prevent the spread of sufferings from Minamata disease, he said.
May 1, 1956, is the day the disease was brought to light for the first time and the first official apology came from the Supreme Court ruling in October 2004 that held the state responsible.

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50 years later, victims of Minamata Disease still fight for justice

New America Media, Commentary, Christopher Reed, Apr 26, 2006
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Photo, Tomoko Uemura in Her Bath by W. Eugene Smith, Minamata, 1972, courtesy of Masters of Photography
On May 1, Japan will take long-overdue steps to more fully recognize a neurological disease caused by industrial pollution in Minamata Bay.
TOKYO–Like a war widow, 74-year-old Sumiko Kaneko still remembers her husband, who died when she was only 25, and her younger boy, who did not survive infancy. Today she cares for her eldest son, now 50, who has lived a wheelchair for the last nine years.
Kaneko did not suffer her losses in war, but from a terrible illness that afflicts her, too. It is Minamata disease, caused by manufacturing pollution in Japan, and an international symbol of the dangers of unchecked industrial development in the modern world.
On May 1, Japan marks the 50th anniversary of the first official report of what would later emerge as the years-long dumping of tons of highly dangerous organic mercury into Minamata Bay by a chemical firm. The pollution blighted the lives of thousands, killed many hundreds and has yet to be resolved. A ceremony will be held Monday, when prime minister Junichiro Koizumi will apologize.
But like Japan’s belated attempts to atone for World War II atrocities, sorrowful words will not satisfy. Still angry at decades of evasion, lies and intimidation are the government-certified 2,995 afflicted, relatives of the 1,784 dead, the 16,289 unrecognized claimants and possibly two million damaged in some way by the neurological disorder (all statistics open to challenge, because of conflicting accounts).
The anniversary marks the day an official of the small town of Minamata on the west coast of Japan’s southern island of Kyushu received a formal report of four patients suffering a mysterious malady. The sickness caused numbness, eyesight loss, tremors, difficulty walking, extreme stabbing pains, lapses of consciousness, severe convulsions, coma and sometimes death.
But residents were suspicious before May 1, 1956. The disease had already provoked the deaths of dozens of Minamata’s pet cats, who hurled themselves off jetties. Then, people were behaving strangely, shouting and acting crazy. All of them — including the cats — had something in common. They ate lots of local fish.
Already some residents were pointing fingers at the only industry in the locality other than fishing, the powerful Chisso corporation and its large petro-chemical factory by Minamata Bay. It had been there under changing titles since 1906, making fertilizer and, since 1941, vinyl chloride, a process involving a compound of mercury. Chisso was known to have dumped tons of waste sludge into the bay; local fishermen had long complained.
Soon after the first report, it was discovered that 17 people in the area had died. A medical research team at nearby Kumamoto University was alerted, but two years later no definitive cause had been found. One difficulty was a local taboo on speaking ill of Chisso, the major employer. Even though mercury was a suspect, the firm kept its use of the compound a secret, while attacking the research.
Finally in 1959, the team published an interim report blaming mercury, but by then local fishermen were out of business as more people became ill and seafood was suspected. That November, as Chisso resisted compensation payments, the fishermen rioted, broke into the company and destroyed equipment. The Tokyo media awoke to the dire events in faraway Kyushu.
But as the years passed, Chisso continued to obstruct and resist, abandoning the mercury compound only in 1968. The local government also prevaricated, and government ministries in Tokyo did not help — in fact they hindered, terminating the university research grant, for instance. It was even suggested the disease had run its course.
Minamata disease was not a passing affliction, however. People continued to fall ill and die. In 1965, a second, smaller outbreak erupted in northern Niigata prefecture, caused by another chemical firm.
The Ministry of Health finally officially recognized the disease and its cause in 1968. Yet still, despite court cases and political action, such as a “camp out” at Chisso’s Tokyo headquarters, obtaining redress was slow. Not until 1977 were government-recognized criteria established to define a sufferer, but this remains controversial even today.
In 1988, the Supreme Court overturned the appeal against a 1979 guilty verdict on Chisso executives for corporate malfeasance, but they were not imprisoned. The company paid out millions of dollars over the years, but new lawsuits against the criteria system still proliferate. Only in 2004 did the Supreme Court finally uphold a lawsuit by 45 plaintiffs.
A new screening system for Minamata entitlements is to be formed — starting in 2007. And on April 25 the Japanese parliament’s lower house passed a resolution calling for increased government help — its first such action.
Nobuo Miyazawa, a journalist who has followed the case for years, offers a chilling verdict: “…all the parties except the victims, making excuses and avoiding what they needed to do … Minamata is a disease that was willfully inflicted.”

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