Matsumoto to meet victims of Minamata

Kyodo News

Environment Minister Ryu Matsumoto said Tuesday he will visit Minamata, Kumamoto Prefecture, on Saturday to meet victims of Minamata mercury-poisoning disease and discuss their concerns.

“Many of the sufferers are elderly, and there are problems with medicine and welfare,” Matsumoto said at a news conference. “Listening to their opinions with an open mind is the first step.”

Last Friday, the government began providing a lump-sum allowance of ¥2.1 million per person to those who, despite suffering from symptoms of the poisoning, had failed to be officially recognized as Minamata disease patients.

Based on the redress measure that enabled the lump-sum allowance, there is also a move to separate Chisso Corp. — the chemical maker that caused the disease by dumping mercury-tainted water into the sea — into two separate companies, one in charge of handling compensation to victims and the other to deal with business operations.

“I want to take adequate measures to dispel (any) concerns” among the victims about the possible corporate move, said Matsumoto, a Democratic Party of Japan lawmaker who assumed his post in last month’s Cabinet reshuffle.

The neurological illness has affected coastal residents in Kumamoto and Kagoshima prefectures who ate tainted fish and other kinds of seafood. It was officially recognized by the central government in 1956.