The Minamata Bay Tragedy 1950

In the late 1950s, Japan was shocked by the news of mercury pollution until it was called Minamata Disaster. The Minamata incident occurred after the dumping of industrial waste containing methyl mercury into the sea in the 1930s in the Minamata Bay. The disease was first discovered in Kumamoto City in 1956.

In 1968, the Japanese government declared that the disease was caused by contamination of the Chisso Co. Ltd. The Chisso was founded in 1908, is a factory producing chemical fertilizers for agriculture and one of the fastest growing industries in this field in Japan.

In the Minamata tragedy, as a result of eating fish and shellfish from the Minamata Bay that contaminated with methyl mercury, thousands of residents from two regions off the coast of Minamata, Kumamoto and Kagoshima counties were killed. In addition to humans, animals also suffer from the same fate. The cat that eats the fish begins to stagger and die.

Methyl mercury entering the human body has invaded the central nervous system. Early symptoms include feet and hands shaking and fatigue, reduced vision ability, hearing loss, speech loss, and uncontrollable movement.

Some cases of severe patients become insane, unconscious, and die after one month of the disease. Minamata disease is incurable so treatment is only for patients to reduce symptoms and physical rehabilitation therapy.

Minamata sufferers also suffer from social discrimination from the public such a being banned from public places, and having a difficult time finding a spouse.

Methyl mercury and mercury metals are more harmful than other forms of mercury, as mercury in both forms can have a devastating effect on the brain.

High levels of mercury in the form of metal, salts, or methyl mercury, can permanently damage the brain, kidneys or fetus. Following this incident, in the long run, victims of mercury side effects have filed lawsuits against the government and Chisso as the responsible source of pollution.

The Japanese governments and Chisso eventually compensated the victims including providing treatment and rehabilitation funded by the Japanese and Chisso governments themselves.

Because fishes containing mercury have ruined the fishery's sustenance, this has been taken seriously by both the government and Chisso.

In 1968, Chisso stopped producing its acetic acid. In the meantime, the levels of mercury contained in the bodies of fish and other marine invertebrates are decreasing.

In anticipation of mercury-contaminated fish, the Japanese Government have set nets in the Minamata bay to prevent fish and other water invertebrates go far.

All the fish in the net at the Minamata bay were caught by the fishermen and the fish were bought by Chisso for destruction.

Today, the Minamata Bay is clean and free of mercury as announced by the Kumamoto local government and even the Minamata Bay is the cleanest bay in the Kumamoto area. This area also serves as an eco-tourism that teaches us how to live healthy and care for the environment for the present and the future.

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