Tue, May 02, 2006 - Page 5 News List

Minamata disease victims still fighting for compensation

THE GUARDIAN , TOKYO

Fifty years after the first person was diagnosed in Japan's worst case of industrial poisoning, thousands of other victims of Minamata disease are still fighting for compensation.

More than 900 people died and thousands were left disfigured after eating seafood contaminated with mercury pumped into the sea off the town of Minamata in southwest Japan by Chisso, a chemical manufacturer.

Yesterday victims and campaigners were due to mark the anniversary with a memorial and calls for the stringent criteria for official recognition -- which entitles patients to financial help and medical care -- to be relaxed. More than 10,000 people have applied for government recognition, only 2,265 successfully.

After the Supreme Court ruled in 2004 that the state was responsible for allowing the pollution to continue unchecked and set less rigid criteria for official recognition, more than 3,500 people launched claims. Campaigners said up to 30,000 people could have developed symptoms.

The worst affected died painful, miserable deaths as the mercury destroyed their central nervous system. Survivors experienced symptoms such as seizures and tunnel vision.

In an unprecedented move, Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi apologized for the failure.

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