In September 2006, an experts’ forum submitted a report to the environment minister, stressing the urgent need for the central government to take the initiative in setting up a new, permanent framework to aid all victims of Minamata disease, including unrecognized and latent victims.

Yet, more than one year after the report, a final plan to rescue such victims does not exist, although more than 5,000 people seek recognition as victims of the disease, a symbol of Japan’s postwar industrial pollution. It is uncertain whether a project team put together by the ruling coalition can present an equitable plan that compares even with a 1995 government program.

In 1973, Minamata disease victims and Chisso Corp. signed a compensation agreement, but the criteria for recognizing victims were too strict. In 1977 the government stipulated that a person suffering from a combination of mercury-poisoning symptoms, such as sensory disturbances and visual-field constriction, could be recognized as a Minamata disease victim. People with less severe symptoms were excluded from compensation.

In 1995, the administration of socialist Prime Minister Tomiichi Murayama worked out a “political reconciliation” program that has covered about 11,000 victims with a one-time payment of ¥2.6 million as well as allowances for medical treatment. Those dissatisfied with this program filed suit.

In 2004, the Supreme Court ruled that a person exhibiting even a single symptom of mercury poisoning should be recognized as a Minamata disease victim under certain conditions. The court also held the central government and the Kumamoto prefectural government responsible for the outbreak of the disease.

It is reported that a plan considered by the ruling coalition’s project team envisages a one-time payment of ¥500,000 plus allowances for medical treatment. But this amount is much smaller than past levels of compensation.

The project team should pay more attention to the September 2006 report, which points out that Minamata disease resulted from the “worst” failure demonstrated thus far by the central and local governments since the end of World War II.

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