Top court to rule on government role in Minamata case

The Supreme Court said Friday it will deliver its first judgment on Oct. 15 on the government’s responsibility in preventing the outbreak and spread of Minamata mercury-poisoning disease in the 1950s and 1960s.

Minamata disease patients and relatives of deceased sufferers have demanded compensation from the central and Kumamoto Prefectural governments.

The disease killed hundreds of people, disabled thousands and produced birth defects in the city of Minamata, Kumamoto Prefecture, after locals ate toxic fish and shellfish.

The Supreme Court will rule on the Osaka High Court’s 2001 judgment that the two governments and chemical maker Chisso Corp., which discharged the contaminated water into Minamata Bay, pay a total 320 million yen in compensation.

The high court had overturned a district court ruling that only ordered Chisso to pay a total 276 million yen in damages to 42 of the claimants and cleared the central and prefectural governments of liability.

The Supreme Court held a hearing in July in which the government side insisted that the substances that caused the disease were unknown at the time and government measures were not illegal.

At the hearing, the plaintiffs called the high court’s ruling “reasonable” and argued that the governments should have banned consumption of local fish and clams under the Food Sanitation Law.

The plaintiffs had lived in Kumamoto and neighboring Kagoshima prefectures near the Sea of Shiranui, but later moved to Osaka and other parts of the Kansai region.

The disease paralyzes the central nervous system and causes birth defects. Its symptoms include numbness, persistent headaches and impaired balance.