In Minamata is the Future of Japan・スH

Anthony Carter

About 20 years ago in a small fishing village called Minamata City located on the western side of the southernmost major island of the Japanese archipelago, the local cats began committing suicide. These cats, Who were fed a very heavy diet of fish caught in Minamata Bay, would go into fits of uncontrollability, frothing at the mouth and showing signs of greatly impaired motor coordination. During the final stages of the anguish before death the cats would loose all touch with the reality about them and end it all by throwing themselves into the sea.

The happy and hard working local population found this phenomena to be most curious but really, paid it no more than passing attention. It may have been thought that the cats had contracted some disease endemic only to cats, making their strange behavior simply a product of the natural course of events to be seen in a diseased cat population anywhere.

Unfortunately the antics of the cats were not taken into consideration in terms of their meaning for the human population, for what was happening to the cats was also to happen to their human masters a few years later. The cats, whose diet was fish caught in the bay of the fishing village, simply showed the symptoms of methyl mercury poisoning much earlier than their human masters. But the day of reckoning was finally to come when one day 17 years ago the first human victim of methyl mercury poisoning appeared in ill-fated Minamata City, Japan. The discovery of the first victim led to another and then to another until the number of victims grew out of all proportion in relation to the local population.

In the same city there is a manufacturing company known as the "Chisso Corporation". This chemical manufacturing outfit has been for many years even prior to the advent of the dying cats, using organic mercury compounds as well as refined mercury as a catalyst in certain manufacturing processes and the mercury wastes had been dumped into the bay. It did not seem like a large amount of mercury but what was not taken into account, because it was unknown, was the fact that natural food chains such as those existing in the oceans, have a great ability to concentrate poisons, including mercury. So as a result, the fish that the local fishermen were catching was tainted with great concentrations of mercury, much higher than the concentrations to be found in the water of the bay itself.

Mercury as a compound affects the central nervous system. In other words, it damages the brain and the spinal cord so that motor coordination related to every bodily function and movement, is impaired or destroyed. There is a loss in the ability to walk, speak, write, see, hear, smell and feel. The victim of this kind of poisoning, depending on the level of contamination to which he or she has been exposed, is in many cases reduced to the status of a living vegetable. That is, the higher human functions are ruined and only the very base animal functions are left somewhat active. In the worst cases mercury poisoning results in a very agonizing death. But perhaps worse than death is to be left alive a victim of mercury poisoning with only one quarter of your original mental and physical capacity left functioning.

Many of the victims of the Minamata Disease, as the mercury poisoning in Japan has come to be known, were born diseased, because the poison passed the placental barrier and destroyed their central nervous system while they were yet in their mother's womb. Today, mercury poisoning is spreading in Japan and a second set of victims in yet another geographical location had been discovered and then even more recently people with disease symptoms and pathological processes very much similar to those of the Minamata Disease, have been discovered in two or three other locations. Further, government figures indicate that large amounts of mercury wastes have been dumped into the aquatic environments of the Japanese people by Japanese manufacturing firms for a period of more than twenty years. Daily in the Japanese press, one can find again and again articles relating to the alarmingly widespread extent of mercury poison in the Japanese natural environment. The Minamata Disease is on the march and spreading to many other parts of Japan. With all the feverish competition for economic growth in Asia perhaps the Minamata Disease will spread to other parts of the world as well.


OCTOBER, 1972

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