Since the outset of the Minamata Disease, there has been about 50 years of multiple lawsuits which generated a host of governmental compensation and relief schemes. In 1959, researchers from the Kumamoto university first published proof that wastewater from Chisso’s factory was the causative agent in the Minamata Disease, compounding the findings with proof from a prior experiment where a cat (#400) was found to exhibit Minamata Disease symptoms after consuming Chisso factory wastewater. Chisso however, refused to acknowledge their fault and insisting on the payment of “sympathy money” instead of full compensation to victims. The criteria for victims to receive sympathy money from Chisso under the Mimaikin Agreements was extremely stringent, and accessed entirely by representatives approved by Chisso. However, official lawsuits started in 1968 when Chisso was found responsible for pollution by the national government. As the number of affected patients increased, the amount of money spent on compensation schemes also increased proportionally, resulting in Chisso and the local government trying to tighten criteria to reduce the amount of patients under compensation.
Subsequently, patients who could not meet the strict selection criteria and their supporters mounted the first Minamata Disease Lawsuit in 1973. The lawsuit was successful and resulted in the establishment of a modified, less stringent criteria for compensation in 1977. This in turn, resulted in an increased number of applicants and the issuing of compensation became more and more delayed. In order to ease the mounting tensions in 1995, the government further modified the compensation criteria through a political settlement. This modified criteria was again relaxed in comparison to previous qualifying criteria and was targeted to provide lifetime medical compensation depending on the severity of the sufferer’s symptoms. There was however, still a string of parallel lawsuits filed by victims who were rejected by the certification board and their supporters. Notably, these lawsuits ended in the 2009 political settlement (result of the Kansai Lawsuit), which further relaxed the selection criteria. Spanning several decades, these cumulative legal fights (which are still continuing today), have weathered many victims off the compensation applications due to either old age or due to the victims succumbing to their illnesses. Despite the first and second Minamata disease lawsuits and their corresponding compensation and relief schemes, there are still a large amount of patients who remain unaccounted for. This is due to the difficulty in ascertaining their symptoms as Minamata disease symptoms and the difficulty of assigning the category of their compensation.
Author: Joanne Khew; Figure by Joanne Khew; Contributors: Mahdi Ikhlayel, Heng Yi Teah, Angeli Guadalupe