The Ministry of Environment announced late August results of investigation of uncertified patients of the Minamata Disease. The exploration was conducted along a policy to help them in compliance with the special act on the disease. The law specifies to save patients ‘as many as possible’, but the recent outcome is far from the intention. The state government must observe the ruling given by the Supreme Court of April last year to correct the criteria to make a fresh start.
‘AS MANY AS POSSIBLE’ IS JUST A PHRASE
According to the announcement, 32,244 uncertified patients were eligible for a temporary benefit amounting 2.1 million Yen. The ministry has checked in total 47,906 people from three prefectures of Kumamoto, Kagoshima and Niigata for certification. Applicants had numbered 64,730.
As for victims who live in Kumamoto and Kagoshima, the special act puts conditions on them: 1) he/she has once lived in the specified area around the Shiranikai Sea and 2) had been born before November of 1969 when the Chisso Corporation, the main culprit, stopped draining waste water polluted with methyl mercury. Those outside the category were requested to prove a fact that they have eaten a lot of contaminated fish.
Naturally, people criticize the geographic classification and age limits as they are ‘unfair’, because many of residents in the mountain areas of Kagoshima Prefecture who used to eat fish purchased from peddlers suffer from sensory disorder. Some of them could not provide evidence that he/she had eaten mercury-tainted fish half a century ago and were rejected eligibility.
The state government sets a rule that after December of 1969 ‘the pollution level did not reach a point to cause the disease’, but six people born after that year were newly certified as deserved to the benefit. The mercury level in the umbilical cord was high. This is an important fact. The criteria and classification provided in the special act are questionable.
Information Should be Disclosed
The Ministry of Environment announced the number of beneficiaries, but it did not disclose judgment for certification and places where they lived. The ministry should disclose information as much as possible to find out victims who may be left hidden.
Reportedly, of those 19,306 patients newly recognized by the Kumamoto Prefecture authority around 300 people refrained from receiving the temporary benefits. It is because a would-be recipient is requested to give personal data, including his/her name, to the Chisso Corporation and its group companies when he/she applies for the money. Provably those who hesitated have some relations with the companies and find inconveniences.
Professor Hanada Masanobu of the Minamata Disease Research Center, Kumamoto Gakuen University, told he had received many depressing messages on his internet board late July when he publicized an article on the disease; typed that ‘they make a fuss for money’. That means discrimination and prejudice are deep-rooted, which prevents latent victims from coming out and hinders settlement of the problem.
All Victims Should be Investigated
The government has not reacted well to the repeated demands of factual investigation from victims’ groups. Sick people are elderly and have scarce time. Every one living around the Shiranuikai Sea should be examined in order to attain a complete settlement as early as possible.
A fundamental question lies in the fact that the state government would not rectify the certification standard provided in the Public Health Act as it ignores the said Supreme Court ruling. It acknowledges sensory disorder attributable to the Minamata Disease. If applied, a large number of uncertified victims could be saved by the Public Health Act.
October 7, 2014