An Introduction to the Minamata Disease (1)|What is the Minamata Disease?

Minamata Team 015 2-The Story in 8 Posts, Blog, Minamata Unit 2015, Reports April 28, 2015

The Minamata Disease refers to the symptoms exhibited as a result of Mercury toxicity which was caused in this case, by water-borne Methyl Mercury pollution. As the disease largely affected residents in the vicinity of Minamata Cityw within Kumamoto Prefecture (Figure 1), it was termed as the “Minamata Disease”. Sufferers of the Minamata Disease exhibit symptoms synonymous with the Hunter-Russel syndrome, which was in turn, founded on research on Mercury poisoning resulting in consumption of seed preservatives in England during the 1930s. Hunter-Russel symptoms include: sensory disorder, ataxia, visual field constriction, impaired hearing and speech impairment. Among the victims of the Minamata Disease, initial symptoms exhibited by acute-sufferers include disorientation, which may result in death in a few months; however, thousands of sufferers who have a range of milder symptoms still exist today. Accurate diagnosis of sufferers, regardless of the severity of their symptoms, has proven difficult, resulting in a multitude of legal, social, political and medical disputes over a span of 60 years (and counting).

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Figure 1: Map showing location of Minamata city, Kumamoto Prefecture; (inset) map showing the location of Chisso Cooperation’s factory, and its wastewater discharge point, Hyakken Harbour .Inset image credits: Modified from “Map of Minamata Bay and the Chisso Factory”, Wikipedia, CC BY-SA 3.0.

Author: Joanne Khew; Figure by Joanne Khew; Contributors: Mahdi Ikhlayel, Heng Yi Teah, Angeli Guadalupe