The 2006 white paper on the environment features Minamata disease in its opening article as the year marked the 50th anniversary of the official recognition of the mercury-poisoning malady, and it blames the government for its failure to act.

The report, released Tuesday, gives an overview of the history of Minamata disease, which the government formally acknowledged on May 1, 1956. It is the first time an environmental white paper has covered the disease in an opening article.

The paper notes that the government failed to recognize mercury as the cause of the disease until 1968 despite having received a report nine years earlier by a Kumamoto University medical group that said the chemical substance is responsible for the disease.

The government could have detected the disease by around November 1959, the report says, and the failure to take early action allowed the disease to spread.

The report gives major coverage to the 2004 Supreme Court ruling recognizing the responsibilities of the central government and Kumamoto Prefecture over Minamata disease by posting the entire decision.

The government pledges in the report to convey to the world the lessons has it learned from its handling of Minamata disease.

The disease, whose symptoms include sensory impairment, coordination problems and a narrowed visual field, was caused by mercury dumped by a Chisso Corp. factory into the bay off Minamata, Kumamoto Prefecture.

It became Japan’s most serious pollution-related postwar illness.

The paper also says energy consumption is expected to increase until 2010 as the number of households rises, despite an estimated fall in the population from 2005.

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