A total of 2,993 Minamata disease patients who have not been officially recognized as sufferers of the Japan’s worst industrial pollution-induced disease have reached a negotiated settlement of their compensation lawsuits against Chisso Corp. and the central and Kumamoto prefectural governments.

The company had caused the disease by releasing methyl mercury into the Yatsushiro Sea of Kumamoto Prefecture. Under the terms of the settlement reached at the Tokyo, Kumamoto and Osaka district courts on March 24, 25 and 28, respectively, Chisso will provide some 90 percent of the plaintiffs with a ¥2.1 million lump sum each as well as a ¥3.15 billion fund, and the central and prefectural governments will shoulder part of their medical costs. Those plaintiffs excluded from the settlement will receive similar benefits, with the money paid out from the fund.

The settlement will give impetus to providing relief measures to a much larger number of unrecognized sufferers of the neurological disease, who did not join the lawsuits. Since May 2010, more than 41,000 such people have applied for the separate relief measures under a 2009 special law to help unrecognized victims. It is hoped that the government will provide the same relief benefits as provided by the negotiated settlement to the applicants.

But the relief law comes with a proviso. It says that within three years after the relief measures start, all the sufferers eligible for the benefits will be identified. This means that after the three-year period expires, unrecognized Minamata disease sufferers will not be able to apply for the benefits. Such a deadline should be abolished and the benefits should be provided irrespective of the time when the application is filed.

Many Minamata disease victims around the Yatsushiro Bay area have not come forward, fearing social stigmatization. There is also a strong possibility that some sick people do not realize they have symptoms of the disease. The central and Kumamoto prefectural governments must carry out a comprehensive medical examination of local residents to find new victims.

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