• Kyodo

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An information center providing data on mercury poisoning was opened Saturday in Minamata, Kumamoto Prefecture, the site of the country’s worst outbreak of mercury poisoning.

The three-story center, built near the National Institute for Minamata Disease by the central government, provides information on mercury poisoning and its prevention, Environment Ministry officials said, adding that the center cost about 1.5 billion yen.

The center features a database that will include clinical research data on the disease, the toxicity of mercury and a display panel showing areas around the world contaminated by mercury.

The center has a hall that can accommodate up to 240 people and can be used for international conventions. It will also have a bureau for victims to provide them with clinical advice on the disease.

Minamata disease, which was caused by mercury poisoning, killed hundreds of people, disabled thousands more and led to birth defects in Minamata in the 1950s and 1960s.

Investigations proved that mercury compounds dumped into Minamata Bay by chemical company Chisso Corp. were the source of the poisoning.

Today, the disease is causing serious problems in the Amazon region of Brazil, where rivers are contaminated by illegal gold miners who use mercury to find gold particles in the water, and in China, where leakages of mercury have been detected in many chemical factories around the country, the officials said.

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