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Thursday, October 10, 2013

Minamata Disease In The News Again

Representatives from 140 countries recently gathered in Minamata-shi, Japan, this week to sign a global agreement to reduce mercury in the environment.

This comes nearly 80 years after a chemical plant in Minamata began releasing methyl mercury into the ocean.

The resulting mercury poisoning affected some 60,000 people and was officially recognized as Minamata disease in 1956.

The above news article - partially reprinted here - was sent to me by my buddy Matthew from the source:
http://hereandnow.wbur.org/2013/10/09/mercury-treaty-minamata.

Minamata Disease was something I had heard about decades before, but this article seemed to assume everybody already knew everything about Minamata Disease.

So... let's find out!

Caused by mercury poisoning, this neurological disorder includes: ataxia (can't coordinate muscle movements), numbness in the hands and feet, overall muscle weakness, narrowing of the field of vision, damage to hearing and speech.

For those afflicted with a heavy dose, there's the added benefit of insanity, paralysis, coma and death.  It only takes weeks from symptom onset.

It will also affect a fetus in the womb.

How did it begin and where?

Described as one of the world’s worse environmental disasters, Minamata Disease originated in Minamata-shi in Kumamoto-ken, when it was first recognized as something new and evil in 1956.

It was caused by the release of methylmercury into the industrial wastewater by the Chisso Corporation's chemical factory that was in business between 1932-1968.

Chisso had started production of acetaldehyde using a mercury catalyst at its Minamata plant in May 1932. The plant discharged wastewater from its acetaldehyde plant into to Minamata Bay via Hyakken Harbor. The wastewater contained many pollutants and poisonous substances including methylmercury, a highly toxic chemical.

The highly toxic mercury was dumped, like most factory wastewater around the world, back into the local waters, in this case Minamata Bay and Shiranui Sea, where it accumulated within the flesh of fish and shellfish, which were in turn eaten by the locals, including human, cat, dog and pig population.

Over that 36 year period, both the government and Chisso Corp. did little to nothing to prevent the population—but, to be fair, the same thing was going on in Canada and the U.S. at that time.. and we just got lucky.

I know that the Lever soap plant used to vent wastewater into the Don River here in Toronto… with the scum bubbles being so high and thick that you couldn't see three feet across the river. Who the hell knows what was really in the water then, but let's just say that many an eco-system was wiped out.

In 1963, doctors at Kumamoto University determined that Minamata Disease was caused by mercury emitted by Shin Nihon Chisso Hiryo.

In 1965, Shin Nihon Chisso Hiryo changed its name to Chisso Corporation (チッソ株式会社 Chisso Kabushiki Kaisha).

In May 1968, Chisso finally stopped using a mercury catalyst in the production of  acetaldehyde.

In 1969, victims of Minamata Disease began suing Chisso for compensation. By March of 2001, a total of 2,265 victims had officially been recognized as having been chemically poisoned and contracting Minamata Disease. Of those 2,265 victims, 1,784 of them had already died.

By 2004, Chisso Corp. had already paid-out $86-million in financial compensation to a total of 10,000 people, and was ordered to clean up its contamination.

That was in 2004. Chisso had been dumping methylmercury into the environment since 1932 - stopping in 1968 after a 36-year dump, but it actually took ANOTHER 46 years for them to begin cleaning up the environment.

The financial compensation of $86 million for 10,000 people… let's see… let's do that math… he divide by pie (cherry), multiply by bi-valve partisan mollusks… carry the weight… that's an average of $8,600 per victim.

How the hell is that compensation? Money is going to bring a loved one back, but an offer of an average of $8,600 is insulting.

Forty-six years! - And this is 45 years after first being sued for compensation!

What you can take out of that fact is that 45 years ago, Chisso Corporation recognized that it played a small part (total part) in the poisoning of thousands of Japanese people by its poisoning of the environment.

But… it did NOT recognize that it needed to clean up the environment meaning that more animals and people could still have become sit in the ensuing suing 45 years.

That's a fudged up sense of responsibility, yo.

Did you know that Crown Princess of Japan Masako is related to this mess? Her maternal grandfather was the president and later chairman of the board at Chisso.

It is said that grandpa Egashira Yutaka (surname first) needed some heavy help when Minamata victims and supporters began a 'single shareholder' campaign whereby each would buy a single share of Chisso, to enable them entry to Chisso's general meetings so they could be accused first-hand.

So… with some 1,000 shareholders gathering in Osaka to attend a general meeting on November 28, 1970, it is alleged that Chisso bargained with the Yakuza and had them become company shareholders,

Faced by perm-sporting, tattoo-wearing, nine-fingered members of the Japanese business club know as the Yakuza, the single shareholder group was physically or emotionally threatened and did not enter the general meeting… which quickly ended in five minutes with all bills submitted and board approved.

We've discussed the royal family, Yakuza, environmental destruction, human misery and money. I think we've all had enough.

The photo at the very top of this article is known as Tomoko's hand and was taken by W. Eugene Smith in 1971.
Source: Mercury as a environmental pollutant as seen from the Swedish perspective
Copyright belongs to the Aileen Archive.

I found it here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Tomokos_hand.gif

A more accurate 2007 census shows a total of 2,668 people were certified as Minamata Disease patients - with 639 still alive at that time.

Oh... and Chisso Corporation is still alive...and since 2012 it has been renamed as the JNC (Japan New Chisso), where it is still in the chemical business.

Guess what JNC manufactures? Something that might be in your home as we read... it makes liquid crystals for LCDs (liquid crystal displays)... like those for televisions and laptops. It does a lot of other things too, and if you wish you can see their English website: HERE

$8,600...

Cheers
Andrew Joseph

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