" Along the coasts of this virtually closed sea and the nearby islands, cats began to die of convulsions during the 1950s. They were called 'dancing cats' then, recalls an old fisherman from Izumi, south of Minamata. 'That was also the "white sea" time: banks of fish floated on the surface. We caught them by hand. They seemed to be fresh and we ate them,' he continues. Like the cats, human beings, especially the most vulnerable - children, pregnant women, old people - began to present curious symptoms."
So goes Leslie Thatcher's translation
of Philippe Pons' annal of the Minamata Bay disaster in Le Monde
The basic story is this: Chisso Chemical company dumped organomercury waste into the ocean. The inhabitants of the local town of Minamata, a midsize fishing town, began to suffer symptoms of poisoning first recorded in 1953. The problem was accurately diagnosed by a scientific committee in 1959, but due to industrial influence on government, no action was taken until 1968-- and court action took until 1973. Ultimately 15,000 were recognized to have been harmed, but compensation has been pathetically small (about $20,000 per person). Some excerpts:
"Children born mentally handicapped, adult victims who lose their sense of touch, have their visual field reduced, shake, or experience convulsions or paralysis...."
"Doctor Matsumoto's father also died of the same causes: 'My father was a doctor. He knew that no one would believe him if he described his symptoms. I felt it was my duty to do his autopsy myself to show that he had a fatal dose of mercury in his body. That was indeed the case. But it was horrible: an ogre's job. As far as the State was concerned, it was less important to care for people than to limit their numbers.'"
'"When did you understand?' we asked a fishing boat owner from Amakusa Island in 1978. Without a word, he led us into the next room. Two little mentally handicapped children were crawling on the tatami mats: 'When they were born.' The family has now entirely disappeared."
"Suffering, like that of this mother whose 43-year-old daughter, paralyzed and mute since birth, is tied into her bed to keep her from hunching herself over. 'The only thing I ask is that she goes before I do. I'll die more peacefully,' confides the mother."
Minamata is in sharp decline and will probably never recover. This is what you get when corporations rule.
Thanks very much to Leslie Thatcher for bringing this bit of truth to those of us who do not speak French, and to Truthout for sponsoring that work.