Hosono apologizes to Minamata disease victims over delay in redress

Kyodo

Environment Minister Goshi Hosono on Sunday apologized for the time it is taking to wrap up the issue of providing relief measures for uncertified patients of Minamata disease.

“I would like to apologize for the fact that the issue hasn’t been resolved and is still causing you suffering,” Hosono said as he met with victims of the disease in Minamata, Kumamoto Prefecture, where Chisso Corp. poisoned the food chain by discharging mercury-tainted water into the ocean decades ago.

It was his first meeting with Minamata patients since he was appointed environment minister.

Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda said last week that uncertified Minamata patients must be given a deadline for applying for government redress, which is being provided by a special law.

The end of fiscal 2011 (March 31) “isn’t appropriate” as a deadline, Hosono said without elaborating on whether a time limit for the measures would be set.

Members of organizations that support Minamata victims have been urging the government not to set any deadline.

In 2010, the government unveiled a rescue package for unrecognized patients of the disease that included ¥2.1 million lump-sum payments and monthly medical allowances of up to ¥17,700 per person. The settlement was the largest since the government began offering compensation to the more than 10,000 uncertified patients in 1995.

The special law stipulates that determining the recipients should take no longer than three years, starting from May 2010.

The neurological illness, which also causes physical deformities, was officially recognized as a disease in May 1956.