Noted Minamata disease authority Masazumi Harada is dead at 77

Kyodo

Dr. Masazumi Harada, who for many years was involved in the study of Minamata disease, died Monday of acute myelocytic leukemia at his home in the city of Kumamoto, his family said. He was 77.

A native of Kagoshima Prefecture, Harada researched the mercury poisoning disease, including a type affecting congenital patients who were hit by mercury in the womb. He continued pressing for early treatment of the patients.

Harada first conducted medical examinations on victims of the industrial poisoning in summer 1961 in Minamata, Kumamoto Prefecture, while he was a student at Kumamoto University’s graduate school.

Shocked by the suffering he saw, Harada devoted himself to the study of the disease.

He published a thesis on congenital Minamata disease in 1964. The work had a significant impact as it disproved the conventional belief that the placenta does not pass poisons. The thesis received an award from the Japanese Society of Psychiatry and Neurology in 1965.

Harada launched a course on Minamata issues at Kumamoto Gakuen University in 2002. He established the Open Research Center for Minamata Studies at the university in 2005, becoming the center’s head. He continued to lead research on the disease from nonmedical perspectives as well.

Harada visited Brazil, China and other countries to look for other people suspected of suffering from the disease.

The author of many books, Harada wrote “Minamata Byo” (“Minamata Disease”), which has been translated into several languages, including English and Korean. The book raised awareness on the issue around the world.

Harada won the Osaragi Jiro prize for his book “Minamata ga Utsusu Sekai” (“The World Reflected by Minamata”).