Minamata disease’s 57th anniversary marked in ceremony

Kyodo

The city of Minamata held a ceremony to pray for victims of its namesake disease Wednesday as it marked the 57th anniversary of the year it was officially recognized by the government.

The anniversary came amid discussions on how best to improve standards for recognizing victims of the disfiguring mercury-poisoning disease after the Supreme Court ruled April 16 that relief should be provided to a more widely defined range of sufferers.

“We gravely accept the Supreme Court decision,” Kumamoto Gov. Ikuo Kabashima said before some 750 people at the ceremony. “We would like to promptly consider a new recognition system along with the central government and pave the way (for wider relief).”

Environment Minister Nobuteru Ishihara apologized for the central government’s failure to prevent Minamata disease from spreading but did not touch on the Supreme Court decision.

The disease, one of the nation’s worst industrial illnesses, has been traced to mercury-tainted water that Chisso Corp., now called Shin-Nippon Chisso Hiryo K.K., released into Minamata Bay in Kumamoto Prefecture.

By Tuesday, those recognized as Minamata disease sufferers had reached 2,976, including cases attributed to mercury-contaminated water released by Showa Denko K.K. in Niigata Prefecture.

Many people have sued to be officially recognized as Minamata sufferers, leading the government to make a political decision in 1995 to provide relief money that has so far been accepted by 11,000 people. About 65,000 people have applied for relief under a special law on the disease that took effect in 2010.

In October this year, the city of Kumamoto plans to host a conference at which some 800 representatives from about 140 countries and regions will adopt and sign the Minamata Convention to help prevent mercury poisoning and pollution. The representatives will also tour Minamata.