From 1932 to 1968, Chisso Corporation, a company located in
Kumamoto Japan, dumped an estimated 27 tons of mercury compounds
into Minamata Bay. Kumamoto is a small town about 570 miles
southwest of Tokyo. The town consisted of mostly farmers and
fisherman. 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.
In Japanese, "Chisso" means nitrogen. The
Chisso Corporation had it's beginnings as a fertilizer producing company, and gradually advanced to a petrochemical and plastic-maker company. In 1907 the villagers of Minamata convinced the founder of Chisso
Corporation to build a factory in their town, hoping to benefit
from the wealth of industrialization.
The owner, Jun Noguchi agreed to the development at a cost to the villagers, Noguchi only hired them as factory workers with the higher up positions in the company going to "elites" educated at some of the finest Universities in Japan.
By 1925, the Chisso Corporation was dumping waste from the production and development of chemicals into Minamata Bay
and destroying the fishing areas. The theory behind Noguchi's
industry was to pay off the Minamata fisherman in exchange for
damaging their fishing environment. According to interviews of the people who lived in Minamata, the company believed that it was much cheaper to pay off the few people who were opposed to the dumping, rather than implement an environmentally safe technique of waste removal. Therefore, since the villagers accepted this practice through compensation of money, and the government was behind the industry, the entire process appeared ethical.
Chisso Corporation started developing plastics, drugs, and perfumes
through the use of a chemical called acetaldehyde in 1932.
Acetaldehyde is produced using mercury as a compound, and was key
component in the production of their products. The company was
considered an economic success in Japan, particularly because it
was one industry that maintained development despite Japan's
suffering throughout and right after W.W.II.
Having a monopoly
on the chemical enabled Chisso to expand rapidly. Since Chisso
Corporation was the main industry in the small Minamata town, the
town's growth period from 1952 to 1960 paralleled Chisso's
Not until the mid-1950's did the people of Minamata begin to see the effects of the as yet unknown mercury pollution. People were alarmed when the cats who hung around the fishing docks waiting for the catch of the day, began to dance. No feline dance of anticipation, these dances were seizures. The cats had uncontrolled body movements, seizures, and then would drop dead on the docks and in the streets.
In 1956 people began to notice the "strange
disease" in their own kind. Dr. Hajime Hosokawa from the Chisso Corporation Hospital, reported that, "an unclarified disease of the central nervous system has broken out". 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.
However, by 1958, Chisso Corporation transferred their dumping from
the Minamata Bay to the Minamata River hoping to diminish
accusations toward the company. A Minamata doctor finally diagnosed the disease as Mercury Poisoning. 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.
In July of 1959, researchers from Kumamoto University
concluded that organic mercury was the cause of the "Minamata
Disease". A number of committees, of which Chisso Corporation
employees were members, formed to research the problem. The
committees denied this information and refuted the direct link of
mercury to the strange disease. 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. 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.
Chisso Corporation began to make deals with the victims of the
" Minamata Disease". People who were desperate and legally ignorant
signed contracts which stated that Chisso Corporation would pay
them for their misfortunes, but would accept no responsibility. In
fact, there was even a clause which
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