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The Japanese Government Conceals the Actual Number of Victims
in the Minamata Disease Case

The Japanese Government Conceals the Actual Number of Victims in the Minamata Disease Case

Toshihide Tsuda, MD PhD
Environmental Epidemiology
Okayama University Graduate School of Environmental Science
1-1, Tsushima-naka, 3-chome,
Okayama 700-8530 JAPAN
April 25, 2006

The Ministry of the Environment has insisted consistently that the present criteria for recognizing Minamata Disease victims acknowledges all applicants who "have 50% or more probability of having Minamata Disease." Since a quantitative figure has been indicated, there should be a basis for it and calculations made to reach it. And yet, when the government guidelines for designating Minamata Disease sufferers was made public by the government in 1977, absolutely no medical rationale was given for it.

In 1985, after the Fukuoka high court verdict criticized the government criteria, and as a result the Medical Experts' Council (Igaku Senmonka Kaigi) was convened and the views of the council made public, there was still no explanation given concerning the basis for approving this standard. This kind of opinion, devoid of any data or reference documents, is a far cry from qualifying as expert medical opinion.

Again in 1991, the findings issued by the government's Council for Control of Environmental Pollution utilized the 1985 Medical Experts' Council opinion as grounds, and again, neither data nor reference materials were submitted.

The controversial 1995 Political Settlement took place under these circumstances.

The Ministry of the Environment professes that the current system acknowledges all applicants who have "50% or more probability of having Minamata Disease," the Japanese Diet has issued a resolution stating that not one Minamata Disease victim should go unrecognized, and pro-government medical scientists openly talk about a recognition rate of 100%. Toru Okajima, former head of the Kumamoto-Kagoshima Pollution Victims Certification Investigation Committee stated, "There might be Minamata Disease with only sensory disturbance as a sign. However, if we draw a line there, there is a probability we would end up including people with other illnesses." He says this as though he doesn't know that it has already been recognized that supposedly it's all right to include up to 50% of such people.

When actual calculations are made, it is evident that even people with more than 99% probability of medically having Minamata Disease are not recognized under the present system.*1 Even for people who satisfy the standard set forth by the Kumamoto-Kagoshima Pollution Victims Certification Investigation Committee, the fact of the matter is only 2 out of 9 of these people are certified by the committee, and no explanation or defense is publicly given for this.*2 Whether intentional or unconscious, no one with authority and power attempts to face up to and discuss the unbridgeable gulf between reality and the fiction concocted to be reality.

Becoming cognizant of victims as indeed being victims would be the first step in correcting this illegal conduct. However, this is not taking place even on this 50th anniversary of Minamata Disease. Medical professionals like Okajima who avoid any medical debate but rather envelope themselves in silence are playing a major role in the absolute deficiency of discussion and debate.

In this manner, almost all people who would normally be considered patients if this incident were treated as a case of food toxicity are not treated as patients. Minamata Disease is a case of food poisoning and identified as such in medical textbooks. The current situation is equivalent to making a declaration to someone who has diarrhea after being subjected to bacterial food poisoning., "You are not a victim of food poisoning." A person can recover from diarrhea in 2 or 3 days, whereas the neurological symptoms of Minamata Disease last a lifetime. There are at least 20,000 to 30,000 people like this in Kumamoto and Kagoshima prefectures where the mercury contamination occurred.

In order to be recognized as suffering from Minamata Disease, patients who have the relevant symptoms and have eaten the food causing the poisoning must apply for certification, are rejected, file for administrative grievance under the Administrative Appeal Law, file civil lawsuits. In the meantime, at least fifteen years have been taken up. This would never occur in other food poisoning cases.

The essential and crucial debate both scientific and administrative is not taking place because the discussion now is about whether to maintain the present, absolutely unnecessary system of Minamata Disease patient certification. Those with authority do not recognize in the least this current state of affairs and instead place the maximum burden upon the victims.

That, is the reality of Minamata Disease today.


  • *1. The Japanese Society for Psychiatry and Neurology, Research and Human Rights Issues Committee, Opinion Concerning the "Ministry of the Environment, Environmental Health Division, Division Director Communications" (Environmental Health Directive No.262, 1977) "Guidelines Pertaining to Acquired Minamata Disease," 1998, pp. 100, 765-790. (In Japanese.)
  • *2. Miyai, Masaya, Assessment of Certification Investigation Committee's Judgment Concerning Kumamoto Prefecture's Minamata Disease, The Japanese Society for Hygiene Journal, 1997, pp. 51, 711-721.