The Diet on July 8 enacted a special law offering financial relief to more sufferers of Minamata disease, with the support of the ruling coalition of the Liberal Democratic Party and Komeito as well as the opposition Democratic Party of Japan. Under the law, anyone showing one or more of the following symptoms will be recognized as a sufferer of the neurological disorder attributed to wastewater containing organic mercury, released by Chisso Corp. and Showa Denko K.K.: numbness in limbs; sensory impairment — systemic or of the tongue and mouth region; and visual field constriction. It is expected that some 20,000 people will become eligible for relief.

The measure represents the second political attempt to enlarge the scope of relief, following the one in 1995 that covered about 11,000 people. But it does not represent a permanent solution to the issue for Minamata disease sufferers. Under the law, Chisso will be divided into a holding company to financially compensate sufferers and a subsidiary to take over business operations. Since the holding company is to be dissolved once it is determined that compensation payments have been completed, there is the danger that the legal entity that caused the pollution will disappear. And the law does not cover people with other symptoms such as intellectual impairment.

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