• Kyodo

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The deadline for victims of Minamata disease to apply for official redress under a special law expired Tuesday despite a petition by more than 100,000 people to extend the deadline.

The government stopped accepting applications in Niigata, Kumamoto and Kagoshima prefectures from uncertified patients of the neurological illness, which is caused by mercury-tainted water released into the sea and rivers.

The disease, officially recognized in May 1956, was caused by mercury-laced wastewater discharged by a plant of chemical maker Chisso Corp. in Minamata, Kumamoto Prefecture. It has affected coastal residents in Kumamoto and Kagoshima prefectures. A similar disease was later confirmed in Niigata Prefecture, caused by wastewater from a Showa Denko K.K. plant.

By the end of June, a total of 57,589 people had applied for government relief that included a lump sum of ¥2.1 million. The Environment Ministry had initially expected the number to peak at around 30,000.

The government began receiving applications in May 2010 and Environment Minister Goshi Hosono set the end-of-July deadline in February as the special law says those receiving redress must be decided within three years.

The ministry has called on those suffering from the disease to meet the deadline, saying documents such as health check results wouldn’t necessarily arrive at local government offices by the end of July.

A group of Minamata patients urged the government to postpone the deadline, saying some potential patients couldn’t apply for fear of discrimination due to the stigma over the disease.

They submitted the 100,000 signatures to the Environment Ministry to seek a deferral of the deadline while staging sit-ins in front of the ministry building.

The Japan Federation of Bar Associations also urged the government to drop the deadline, saying in a June opinion that it would lead to the abandonment of potential patients. The group also requested the government to conduct health investigations in possible disease-hit areas.

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