National / Social Issues

Minamata, Kumamoto Prefecture, marks 62nd anniversary of mercury poisoning disaster

Kyodo

An annual memorial service for victims of mercury poisoning was held Tuesday in Minamata, Kumamoto Prefecture, as Japan marked the 62nd anniversary of its official recognition of the disaster caused by industrial pollution.

About 700 people, including survivors and families of victims, attended the service held in the city. Many aging victims continue to seek recognition and compensation.

Around 2,000 people in Kumamoto and neighboring Kagoshima Prefecture are still awaiting official recognition as sufferers of the neurological disease, and a string of suits are still pending in the courts.

The disease has been traced to mercury-tainted water that fertilizer-maker Shin-Nippon Chisso Hiryo K.K., now called Chisso Corp., dumped into Minamata Bay in the 1950s and 1960s. Local residents who consumed contaminated seafood suffered paralysis of the hands and feet and visual field defects. The disease also causes birth defects.

Environment Minister Masaharu Nakagawa, Kumamoto Gov. Ikuo Kabashima, and Shunkichi Goto, the president of Chisso Corp., were among those in attendance at the memorial service.

As of the end of March, 1,789 people in Kumamoto Prefecture and 493 people in Kagoshima Prefecture had been recognized as sufferers of Minamata disease, of whom about 350 are still alive with an average age of 78.3.

More than 40,000 unrecognized sufferers in the two prefectures are provided with relief money under a special law that took effect in 2009.

So far, 91 parties have joined the Minamata Convention on Mercury, an international treaty to prevent mercury pollution that regulates the disposal of mercury in mining. The treaty entered into force in August 2017, with parties including China, the U.S. and the European Union signing in addition to Japan.