KUMAMOTO – Fumiko Hiyoshi, who headed a citizens’ group and supported Minamata disease sufferers for more than half a century, died Wednesday due to old age at a nursing home in Minamata, Kumamoto Prefecture, a person close to her family said. She was 103.
Hiyoshi, who was an elementary school teacher before serving as a city assembly member of Minamata for 16 years from 1963, campaigned for the predecessor of chemical company Chisso Corp. and the government to accept responsibility for the disease, which is caused by mercury poisoning.
The company had released mercury-tainted industrial wastewater into the sea, and local residents who consumed contaminated seafood developed neurological symptoms from the poisoning. The disease also caused birth defects.
Hiyoshi established the citizens’ group in 1968 to support the patients and their families. The same year the government recognized Minamata as a disease caused by pollution.