• Kyodo

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The city of Minamata, Kumamoto Prefecture, the site of the nation’s worst outbreak of mercury poisoning, and the Chinese city of Zhangjiagang are promoting exchanges on environmental issues, Minamata officials said.

The exchange aims to allow Kumamoto to share with China lessons it learned while dealing with the poisoning. Factory discharges in China are causing mercury poisoning, while the nation also suffers other serious pollution as a result of economic development, the officials said Thursday.

Using its exchange with Zhangjiagang in the eastern coastal province of Jiangsu as a starter, Kumamoto hopes to set up a network to exchange opinions with several Chinese cities on environmental policies in the future, the officials said.

The move is part of Minamata’s environment protection policies to help other countries deal with poisoning.

“The mercury poisoning occurred at the height of Japan’s economic boom,” a Minamata official said. “We would like to tell China not to make that mistake.”

Zhangjiagang, with a population over 800,000, was designated as the first environment model city by the Chinese government after it met various environmental standards. The city draws environmental officials from all over the country.

Minamata and Zhangjiagang have signed an agreement to deepen exchanges and to hold a joint symposium on the environment in Minamata in the near future, the officials said.

Minamata disease, which was caused by mercury poisoning, killed hundreds of people, disabled thousands and produced 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.

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

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