Ja­pan mer­cury-poi­son­ing vic­tims de­mand tests, 60 years later

Kuwait Times - - HEALTH & SCIENCE -

TOKYO: Six decades af­ter “Mi­na­mata dis­ease” mer­cury poi­son­ing was first dis­cov­ered, vic­tims and their ad­vo­cates are de­mand­ing tests for food tox­i­c­ity and ill­nesses be car­ried out to help iden­tify pa­tients.

Such tests could have greatly re­duced the num­ber of vic­tims if done ear­lier, said Toshi­hide Tsuda, a doc­tor whose civil law­suit de­mand­ing such tests was re­jected by the Tokyo District Court yes­ter­day. Tsuda sued the Ja­panese gov­ern­ment to de­mand it con­duct tests for methyl mer­cury poi­son­ing. He vowed to ap­peal the court’s de­ci­sion back­ing the gov­ern­ment, which gen­er­ally has cho­sen not to con­duct such tests.

Mi­na­mata dis­ease, one of Ja­pan’s worst en­vi­ron­men­tal dis­as­ters, refers to mer­cury poi­son­ing from eat­ing fish and shell­fish. Thou­sands of peo­ple were sick­ened or crip­pled by neu­ro­log­i­cal dis­or­ders from the mer­cury leaks into Mi­na­mata Bay and nearby waters by chem­i­cal com­pany Chisso Corp., which con­tin­ued for more than a decade. Af­fected ba­bies were born with se­vere de­for­mi­ties.

Ad­vo­cates of the vic­tims have been try­ing since 1956 for the right to de­mand such tests, which can only be man­dated by the gov­ern­ment. Tsuda con­tends there would have been far fewer Mi­na­mata vic­tims if tests had been done right away. Even to­day, such tests could help iden­tify peo­ple suf­fer­ing from high mer­cury lev­els, he says.

Ja­panese law re­quires rou­tine and metic­u­lous test­ing for food poi­son­ing. But such test­ing is only con­ducted when the gov­ern­ment deems it nec­es­sary. That of­ten has been the case in smaller food poi­son­ing in­ci­dents. The re­quire­ment that the gov­ern­ment or­der such tests is a “le­gal loop­hole,” said Tsuda. “If this is al­lowed, it means the gov­ern­ment can do what­ever it wants - or rather not have to do any­thing at all,” he told re­porters af­ter the rul­ing. The pre­sid­ing judge ruled that Tsuda was legally in­el­i­gi­ble to be a plain­tiff in the law­suit. The rul­ing state­ment ar­gued there was no risk of the poi­son­ing spread­ing and said the rel­e­vant law was not de­signed to cer­tify food-poi­son­ing vic­tims, just stop its spread, the judge said.

Toshi­hiro Ya­m­aguchi, Tsuda’s lawyer, said Mi­na­mata vic­tims could num­ber as many as 470,000 peo­ple. Many have al­ready died. Only about 2,200 have been of­fi­cially cer­ti­fied as vic­tims, of­ten af­ter ar­du­ous court bat­tles. “Sixty years is a long time,” Ya­m­aguchi said. “Many have en­dured suf­fer­ing ev­ery day.”

TOKYO: Plain­tiff Toshi­hide Tsuda, a doc­tor and Okayama Uni­ver­sity pro­fes­sor, at­tends the press con­fer­ence yes­ter­day.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Kuwait

© PressReader. All rights reserved.