• Kyodo News


A bill aimed at finally settling the Minamata mercury-poisoning case and helping unrecognized sufferers of the disease has been outlined by a task force of the ruling parties, sources said Wednesday.

The Liberal Democratic Party-New Komeito ruling coalition plans to officially approve the bill, which stipulates that “people who should get relief will be helped,” in Friday’s meeting of the task force and submit it during the ongoing regular Diet session.

To secure compensation for the victims, the bill also stipulates procedures for reviewing the operations of Chisso Corp., which caused the disease by releasing mercury-laced wastewater from its factory into Minamata Bay.

The plan will grant Chisso’s request to be split into two firms — one to deal with redress and an affiliate created by spinning off Chisso’s operating division. The affiliate’s stock dividend will be used to cover compensation.

The bill also calls on the state, Chisso, related local governments and local citizens to cooperate “so that a final settlement can be sought” on the matter, the sources said.

The Democratic Party of Japan, the main opposition force, plans to submit its own proposal on the issue, and adjustments between the ruling bloc and opposition parties are expected.

However, as some groups of sufferers are critical of the bill for “clearly showing the intention of trying to end the Minamata issue at an early date” and failing to allocate blame for causing the disease, reaching a settlement may be difficult, even if the bill clears the Diet.

Minamata disease, a neurological affliction, was caused by mercury-laced wastewater from Chisso’s synthetic resin plant in Minamata, Kumamoto Prefecture, which poisoned fish. A similar disease confirmed in Niigata Prefecture in 1965 was found to have been caused by wastewater from a Showa Denko K.K. plant.

To get medical benefits, those afflicted by Minamata disease need to demonstrate a plurality of symptoms under criteria established in 1977 to recognize the victims.

But various problems have occurred because the criteria are not objective, and suits have been filed by unrecognized sufferers who have mercury poisoning symptoms.

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