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Minimata Disaster in Japan


  • 1. MINIMATA DISASTER. By: Nicole Ramirez Period: 4

2. BACKGROUND Minamata is a small factory town dominated by the Chisso Corporation. The town faces the Shiranui Sea, and Minamata Bay is part of this sea. In Japanese, quot;Chissoquot; means nitrogen. The Chisso Corporation was once a fertilizer and carbicle company, and gradually advanced to a petrochemical and plastic-maker company. 3. CONTINUED From 1932 to 1968, Chisso Corporation, a company located in Kumamoto Japan, dumped an estimated 27 tons of mercury compounds into Minamata Bay. When Chisso Corporation dumped this massive amount of mercury into the bay, thousands of people whose normal diet included fish from the bay, unexpectedly developed symptoms of methyl mercury poisoning. The illness became known as the quot;Minamata Diseasequot;. 4. WHAT WAS IT? Minamata Disease is a poisoning disease of central nervous system caused by methylmercury compound, which was produced as by-product in the process of manufacturing acetaldehyde at Chisso Co., Ltd. in Minamata City and Showa Denko Co., Ltd. located upstream of Agano River, and was discharged with the factory effluent and polluted the environment, and then, through the food chain, it was accumulated in fish and shellfish. Consequently Minamata Disease occurred when the inhabitants ate high amount of these seafoods. 5. SCHEME OF HOW THE METHYL MERCURY COMPOUND IS TRANSMITTED FROM THE ACETALDEHYDE MANUFACTURING PROCESS TO HUMAN BODYYay! 6. OVER 3,000 VICTIMS HAVE BEEN RECOGNIZED AS HAVING quot;MINAMATA DISEASEquot;. IT HAS TAKEN SOME OF THESE PEOPLE OVER THIRTY YEARS TO RECEIVE COMPENSATION FOR THIS INCONCEIVABLE EVENT 7. Here we see an image of an outwardly healthy mother bathing her fetal-poisoned 16 year old daughter, Tomoko Uemura, physically crippled since birth due to environmental industrial mercury poisoning in the local Minamata, Japan, water supply. 8. Here, fishing on the Bay of Minamata. This scene has changed very little over the centuries. However, the pollution has changed the relationship that the people of Minamata have with the sea and their mainstay of fish. 9. SYMPTOMS Not until the mid-1950's did people begin to notice a quot;strange diseasequot;. Victims were diagnosed as having a degeneration of their nervous systems. Numbness occurred in their limbs and lips. Their speech became slurred, and their vision constricted. Some people had serious brain damage, while others lapsed into unconsciousness or suffered from involuntary movements. 10. CONTINUED Furthermore, some victims were thought to be crazy when they began to uncontrollably shout. People thought the cats were going insane when they witnessed quot;suicidesquot; by the cats. Finally, birds were strangely dropping from the sky. Series of these unexplainable occurrences were bringing panic to Minamata. 11. Children with congenital Minamata Disease due to intrauterine Methylmercury poisoning. (1986) 12. Minimata, victim of mercury contamination in fish. 13. DOCTOR Dr. Hajime Hosokawa from the Chisso Corporation Hospital, reported on May 1, 1956 that, quot;an unclarified disease of the central nervous system has broken outquot;. Dr. Hosokawa linked the fish diets to the disease, and soon investigators were promulgating that the sea was being polluted by poisons from the Chisso Corporation. The Chisso Corporation denied the accusations and maintained their production. 14. CONTINUED However, by 1958, Chisso Corporation transferred their dumping from the Minamata Bay to the Minamata River hoping to diminish accusations toward the company. Finally, in July 1959, researchers from Kumamoto University concluded that organic mercury was the cause of the quot;Minamata Diseasequot;. Finally, Dr. Hosokawa performed concealed cat experiments in front of the Chisso Corporation management, and illustrated the affects of mercury poisoning by feeding the cats acetaldehyde. 15. CONTINUED Dr. Hosokawa was the first person who made a valiant effort in proving to Chisso Corporation that they were the ones accountable for the mercury poisoning. After the meeting with Chisso officials, Dr. Hosokawa was restricted from conducting any further research or experiments, and his findings were concealed by the corporation. 16. POLITICAL ACTION Finally, Minamata can teach us about politics, particularly as they might apply to environmentalism. The patients of Minamata disease suffered not only from a physical handicap alone. Due to their economic status and the social dimensions of the disease, the victims were also politically handicapped. They--and the fishermen whose livelihoods (if not whose lives) had been destroyed--did not initially command the power or the resources to obtain proper compensation from Chisso. 17. CONTINUED Political lessons may seem inappropriate in a biology classroom. However, students today are increasingly exposed to acts of violence intended to quot;resolvequot; conflicts. An example where bearing witness, patience and persistence have proven their effectiveness can provide a significant alternative model for action. 18. PEOPLE FIGHT BACK The fishermen of Minamata began protesting against Chisso Corporation in 1959. They demanded compensation, and that Chisso quit dumping toxic waste. Chisso in turn tried to make deals with people affected by mercury poisoning using legal documents that stated it would compensate individuals for their illnesses, but would accept no present or future liability. Many people felt this was their only chance at receiving any compensation, and signed the papers. 19. A small fishing boat cruises throught the bay in Minimata, Japan May 27, 1998. In 1932, Chisso Co. Began using Minimatas bay as a repository for its organic mercury waste, creating the worst case of industrial pollution Japan has ever known. 20. Minamata disease victim fisherman Jinichi Hamatsuki, 83, untangles fishing nets and ropes on his boat in Modo village, near Minamata, Japan May 27, 1998. 21. Protestors at the gates of the Chisso factory 22. Wastewater discharge from the Chisso factory in Minamata . 23. This image was used in Life Magazine June 2, 1972 on page 76. A portrait of a young girl who the photographer knew well - Jitsuko-chan. She was a victim of the Minamata tragedy and was no longer able to walk or talk. 24. Methylmercury, an organic mercury compound released in factory wastewater and the cause of Minamata disease. 25. The Chisso factory and its wastewater routes 26. Minimata City, Japan 27. Minamata patients and family members hold photographs of their dead during a demonstration. 28. Minamata Disease victim Tsuginori Hamamoto (70). 29. Memorial at the Minamata Disease Municipal Museum 30. BIBLIOGRAPHY Photographer W. Eugene Smith


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