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VII. Rediscovery of the Minamata disease in Niigata
In June 1965, several patients who exhibited the same symptoms as seen in the Kumamoto Prefecture Minamata disease were discovered among fishermen living along the lower reaches of the Agano River, on the outskirts of Niigata City in Niigata Prefecture, a location far away from Minamata. This was the famous second Minamata disease, and methyl mercury was discovered in the victims' bodies as well as in the fish that they were eating. Along the upper reaches of the Agano River, and also in the area of the river mouth, there were two more acetaldehyde production plants. The second Minamata disease was recognized at an earlier stage and therefore there was a lesser degree of contamination than in Minamata, but even so, in the year of its discovery five deaths were attributed to the disease and 26 persons were designated disease patients. Even though mercury was very clearly the cause of the problem, the task presented to the newly formed Niigata University Medical Department research group in determining cause-and-effect relationships was by no means an easy one. In the areas surrounding the highly industrialized city of Niigata, besides the two above-mentioned acetaldehyde production plants, there were several other manufacturing facilities that used mercury; to add to the complications, mercury-based agricultural chemicals were also widely used, and therefore had to be considered as possible disease vectors. Furthermore, in 1964, the year before the discovery of the disease, there had been a major earthquake in Niigata, and it was suspected that there might be some relationship between that quake and the development of the disease the following year. In this way the research group ruled out, one by one, each of the many possible causation theories through the application of careful investigatory techniques. In the spring of 1966, the research group named, as the probable cause of the disease, the methyl mercury waste effluent from the Showa Denko Company's Kase factory, located on the upper reaches of the Agano River.
From this point on, in exactly the same manner as with the first Minamata disease, an identical course of events unfolded. The industry-related government departments evolved their own theories to counter that of the university research group, pressured the research group to hold back on publicity, and cut down on research funds. Scholars receiving trust funds from industry sources would produce differing opinions that resulted in support for industry. When university medical department research scholars were called before the National Diet to give testimony on the problem, high government officials would secretly try to have them obscure the cause-and-effect relationships. The situation was exactly the same as with the first Minamata disease. At long last, after a year of this kind of deviousness, research firmly established the fact that the disease was caused by the effluent output of the Agano River Showa Denko plant. Industry responded by indicating that even if the government found them at fault, they would not abide by any ruling. Furthermore, since the university research group's findings were a year-and-a-half old, and the government was still in the process of making its own determinations, the research group's findings could not be called official.
Among the Minamata disease victims who could no longer abide by the government's ineptitude and indecision were the extended Miike family from Niigata, a group who had lost more members and suffered more from the disease than any other. This clan decided to take their case to the civil courts in order to obtain reparations for the damage done to them and in order to establish responsibility and define the cause-and-effect relationships. These people, whose incomes were from fishing and farming, were among the lower social classes, and throughout their family history they had never gone to court, which for them was a place to be feared and avoided. But having no other recourse, they were forced to take this course of action, which for them required a tremendous amount of courage. As for the lawyers involved, this case required scientific knowledge in order to pursue litigation over the cause-and-effect relationships, and as such was a new and challenging experience. The lawyers entertained no hopes of success from the very beginning. This was the first time that an environmental destruction case had gone to court in the post-Second World War period. The lawyers were forced to study elementary chemistry from highschool textbooks, and, since this was the first such case, they sought the co-operation of scientists, and proceeded with the full knowledge that there would be a great deal of difficult scientific material to contend with, and that they could expect a powerful counterattack from corporation lawyers. After presenting their initial brief in court, the Niigata victims of the Minamata disease visited the victims of the Itai-itai disease (caused by severe cadmium poisoning affecting the bones) in Toyama Prefecture, and then met the victims of the Minamata disease in Minamata City. Through this they learned more of the history of environmental destruction in Japan and at the same time offered great encouragement to pollution victims all over the country. After this visit, the Itai-itai disease victims took their own case to court. In 1968, with the visit of the Niigata victims to the Minamata area victims, a citizen-based victim support organization was begun, and this organization has continued caring for Minamata disease victims up to the present time. At the same time, the First Chisso Minamata Chemical Company Labour Union, which had split from the original labour union in 1959, made a statement of support for the Minamata disease victims known as the "Shame Resolution." This was the first time in the company's labour-relations history that the union evaluated as "shameful" the action taken against the fishermen who had trespassed on company property. These various actions and movements by the victims of the Niigata disease brought many pollution-related problems back into the national consciousness after they had been forgotten for some time. The Minamata victims were encouraged by the Niigata victims, who were able to walk with pride even though they were diseased. The Minamata victims, supported by a citizens' organization that represented a small minority at the time, were then once again able to begin their own series of actions.
VIII. Government understandings, renegotiations, and interventions
In September 1968, a full 12 years after the initial discovery of the Minamata disease, the government gave full recognition to the cause-and-effect relationships involved in the disease problem, and publicly acknowledged that the disease resulted from environmental destruction. However, during this same 12-year period, the Chisso Minamata complex had lost its leading industrial role in the fields of electrochemical and organic compound chemistry, for within the context of the social forces at play in the 1960s, and in relation to the rapid advances made by the up-and-coming petrochemical industry, the Chisso Company was unable to accommodate itself to rapid movements in the chemical and allied fields and thereby became a second-class enterprise. The problem lay basically with the company's sense of technological nationalism and an overemphasis on corporate pride; these factors became the brake that stopped the company making the necessary changeover to petroleum chemistry. The citizens of Minamata City began to fear for the future of the city as the company began to decline in importance, and insult was added to injury when the government recognized the company's mercury-laden wastes as the cause of the Minamata disease. For the sake of the future of Minamata City, the majority of the people living there hoped that the pollution problem could be solved without friction and with a lessened burden on the company, and therefore sought a community consensus. The national, prefectural, and city governments had much the same attitude as that of the citizens of Minamata City, out of a concern for the consequences of their inaction and irresponsibility as reflected in 12 years of ineptitude and non-involvement in efforts to find a solution. The victims, who were demanding both clarification as to responsibility and negotiations for reparations, became, as a result of their demands, an isolated minority within the context of that special social climate. The Chisso Company refused to negotiate directly with the victims, indicating that negotiations could only take place through a third party such as the national or prefectural government. Seen from a historical perspective, it is a well-known fact that third-party negotiations, especially in relation to environmental pollution, end by favouring the industrial polluter at the expense of the victims of the pollution; a good example of this is the sympathy money negotiations that took place in 1959.
The negotiations in this instance seemed to take much the same direction. Minamata City administration personnel went around to the many disease victims in the city to persuade them that they should sign the white paper proxy that required compliance with the conclusions reached by the mediation committee consisting of three specialists appointed by the Ministry of Public Welfare. (However, the original letter was written by the Chisso Company requesting that the government administration take up the matter.) The majority of the Minamata disease victims signed the proxy, but there were a few who, remembering the results of third-party negotiations in the past, refused to sign. In this way the victims' organization was divided into two groups, those who signed and those who refused to sign the proxy. As time went on the majority of victims who agreed to sign came to be known as the third-party "trust" group by the Ministry of Public Welfare and the minority that refused to sign came to be called the "lawsuit" group, for they were the ones who began preparations to take their case to the courts, following the example of the Niigata victims. In implementing its policy the Ministry of Public Welfare established a mediation committee consisting of a lawyer, a government administrator, and a doctor, and proceeded with preparations for negotiations on the basis of precedents established in relation to labour disasters. However, this method of setting up negotiations for compensation was inadequate, not only for theoretical reasons but because, first, it did not assign responsibility for the disease and, second, the three members of the committee were not adequately knowledgeable about the Minamata disease itself.
IX. Taking the Minamata disease case to court and citizen support
The minority group of victims who decided to take their plea to court therefore chose the hard road, as in the Niigata situation. Because there were no laws regulating industrial activity in Japan, there were no precedents upon which the victims could base their case. In cases where there were laws, there were also a number of significant limitations and loopholes. Even regulations established in 1958 regarding industrial effluents were inapplicable because effluents from acetaldehyde compound and allied chemical production facilities, such as those which caused the Minamata disease, were exempted. Therefore, the only course of action was through the application of the civil code through the related courts, in which the contention made by the plan tiffs could only be based on the illegality of certain deliberate actions or certain kinds of unpremeditated liabilities. However, the untreated effluent discharge from the chemical complex was to be understood in relation to long-standing public domain common consent precedents, which would make it so difficult to assign liability to the company for discharging the said wastes that the lawyers for the plaintiffs thought their cause was lost from the beginning.
At this time a voluntary general citizens' group was formed to support the victims of the disease, called the People's Congress for the Minamata Disease, and Kumamoto City's Association to Indict the Minamata Disease joined forces with it for the purpose of instituting a Minamata Disease Research Group to support the court struggle. Within the context of this organization, citizen volunteers, researchers, journalists, Chisso Company labour union members, and various other people came together in order to continue research on the historical course of the disease. When the company tried to destroy records in regard to past forms of manipulation, some of these materials were saved and taken from the company by labour union people. Dr. Hosokawa, retired from the company and on his deathbed, testified to the fact that the results of his animal experiments were kept secret by the company. The Minamata Research Group was able to piece together the puzzle from the facts that were already known and new materials that had been brought in, and through this effort was able to compile a report which clarified the Chisso Company's liability in, and responsibility for, the Minamata disease. The Association to Indict the Minamata Disease began a small newspaper to report in detail the court procedures and the activities of the various disease victims; this paper was delivered nationwide. The legal procedures were very slow and extremely difficult. There was not the same degree of activity as with the Niigata court proceedings, but news of the legal battle spread from Kumamoto to other interested and concerned persons scattered across the country. From 1968 to 1970, several books were written to introduce the facts and problems surrounding the Minamata disease. The highly acclaimed Kukai jodo, by poetess Michiko Ishimure from Minamata City, portrayed in rich and powerful language the beauty of Minamata and the misery of the disease. The book's literary merit made it widely read, a fact which further helped to sustain knowledge of and interest in this social disaster. Ms Ishimure received the coveted Magsaysay Award from the Philippines for her masterly work.
The negotiating team appointed by the Ministry of Public Welfare proposed in 1970 that the Chisso Company pay small amounts in compensation without being held responsible for the disaster. This proposal was criticized by many, but the majority of the victims, who were dependent on company fortunes, accepted the proposal and signed in resignation. In this way the "trust" victims' group made a compromise and the "lawsuit" group experienced some loss of direction regarding future action. Around that time the basis for certain important actions was being developed. It all started with one person's inquiry as to the real meaning of the Minamata disease.
X. In search of the Minamata disease
In general, Minamata disease was characterized by symptoms typical of methyl mercury poisoning, and it was described and recognized in patients who developed these same severe symptoms between 1953 and 1960. The Kumamoto University Medical Department, which became the centre for examining patients, was, as such, under constant criticism from many parties that had a vested interest in opposing the university's organic mercury cause-and-effect theory. In order to protect themselves from excessive criticism of this sort, the medical department tended to designate patients as disease victims only if the patients exhibited the most classic symptoms of the disease, such as narrowing of the visual field, lack of motor co-ordination, and damage to the sensory nerves. In the case of the second Minamata disease in Niigata, careful epidemiological surveys were made of the disease and it was discovered that the disease symptoms varied to a great extent, depending on the severity of the poisoning. In spite of the fact that they knew full well that they were victims of the disease, many patients did not apply for recognition as official Minamata disease victims because of local community pressure or because of economic interactions and dependence on the fisheries industry. Furthermore, there were many people in the various communities around Minamata who were aware that their friends and neighbours unknowingly had the same symptoms as the recognized disease patients, but were not examined by the committee of doctors set up to designate disease victims. This committee was set up to decide who should receive sympathy money from the Chisso Company, and as a result was under pressure to make very careful screenings so as to limit the number of recipients. There was a rule maintained by the committee that any death from the disease should not be designated a disease-related death. Therefore the medical evaluations were cursory, with a resulting reduction in the number of patients that Chisso had to compensate. This helped to keep the company economically viable, for the entire Minamata community was dependent on it.
Teruo Kawamoto, a fisherman who lived in an area where there were many Minamata disease patients, decided to take not only his own case, but also that of his father who died in 1966, to the examination committee for designation as Minamata disease victims. He presented these cases to various medical institutions, and also to the Human Rights Protection Committee, but was always treated as one who was merely seeking an easy source of income. Not only was his own case rejected, but that of his father was determined non-admissible on the grounds that there was no way that a person already dead could be examined for a particular disease. On the basis of these experiences, he visited other people who complained of the same symptoms, and presented their cases also for designation as patients, but all these applications were rejected. He then learned that there were other avenues of appeal, and, with the support of the Minamata Disease Research Group, made a request to the Ministry of Public Welfare (later to become the Environment Agency) that the cancellation by the Kumamoto Prefecture committee of his application for designation as a disease patient be reversed. Kumamoto Prefecture responded to this initiative by indicating that medical diagnostic decisions, other than those provided through the prefectural committee, could not be accepted as a basis for patient designation. The Minamata Disease Research Group countered with detailed samples and analyses which proved beyond a shadow of reasonable doubt that the results of any thorough medical examination in the Kawamoto cases would provide a wholly adequate base for designation as Minamata disease victims. However, the symptoms of non-Minamata disease pathological processes were often used to mask the symptoms of pathologies caused by methyl mercury poisoning. For example, high blood pressure and diabetes were frequently designated as causes of patients' symptoms when in fact the cause was mercury poisoning.
However, in 1971, on the basis of evidence supplied by the Minamata Disease Research Group, the Environment Agency decided that patients should be designated victims of the Minamata Disease if the symptoms of organic mercury poisoning were present to any discernible degree. This governmental agency introduced changes in the patient examination ground rules and made official attitudes fairer, as contrasted to earlier procedures which had been unduly influenced by political pressures that had been brought to bear. An unavoidable change in the circumstances affecting the fated symbiotic relationship between the Chisso Company and the Minamata community then came about because the number of Minamata disease patients increased. All this was the result of the work of only 100 persons, but the news of the official change in the social and medical ground rules quickly spread across the nation. The most obvious factor was the management crisis that the Chisso Company would face if there were a great increase in the number of designated Minamata disease patients. Furthermore, the news of the Niigata disease victims' victory in the civil court increased the fear of economic instability among the citizens of Minamata City who were dependent on the Chisso Company. Re-examination of patients began, and victims who had once been rejected were able to get themselves designated as disease patients. But the Chisso Company still refused to enter into direct negotiations with the patients' organization, and continued to insist on the third-party method of interaction. The citizens of Minamata feared an increase in the number of designated patients, concerned that increased reparations would further compromise the economic viability of the company, thereby jeopardizing their own prospects for a viable economic future. These citizens brought pressure to bear on patients who were demanding adequate compensation. The majority of the people living in Minamata City were in favour of maintaining the viability of the company and thereby the general welfare of the city. Furthermore, many of the citizens feared that they might also be disease victims, and this fear provoked persecution of the minority Minamata disease patients' organization. This new patients' movement, which was basically in favour of direct negotiations with Chisso Company directors, found its own development greatly impeded by opposition from public opinion as well as by obstructionism from the company and city administration. Under this kind of pressure, some of the patients changed their minds and decided to co-operate with the third-party negotiations. As a result the disease victims were divided again into the previous "trust" and "lawsuit" factions.
XI. Sit-down strike at Chisso Company Headquarters - Seeking direct negotiations
Kawamoto and a few of the other Minamata disease victims, having no further access to negotiations with the company in Minamata, decided to go to Tokyo where the general offices of the company were located, in order to negotiate with the company President, the one person most responsible for Chisso policies. There they were joined by a contingent of supporters from Tokyo and its environs. Since the company President would not make himself available for talks, the demonstrators started a sit-down strike inside the corporate offices, determined to stay there until the President agreed to a direct confrontation. At this point, the police were called in, and the strikers were forcibly removed. They remained on the street in front of corporate headquarters for 18 months, beginning in December 1971. Also, Kawamoto went to other Chisso Company manufacturing plants to seek the cooperation and understanding of Chisso workers and their labour unions. When he visited the company-loyal labour union at the Goi plant in Chiba Prefecture, he was met with violence. One of the causes of the early death of the famous American photographer, Eugene Smith, was an injury received as a result of accompanying Kawamoto to the Goi plant. This kind of violence against the Minamata disease victims' movement was bitterly criticized in every quarter, and these events strengthened citizen support for the sit-down strike at company headquarters. The social symbiosis between the company and the citizens that existed in Minamata City was not operative in Tokyo. Between 1968 and 1969, when campus-based student demonstrations were at their peak, young people became very much aware of social issues and problems, and these same students came voluntarily to the aid of the Minamata sit-down strikers. When for so-called security reasons the city called in the riot police to break up the strike, supporters were united in nonviolent demonstrations. This event was to become the longest and the largest sit-down strike in the history of Japanese social movements. These demonstrations also had a profound effect on Chisso management.
The United Nations Conference on the Human Environment, held in Stockholm in June 1972, unofficially welcomed the participation of the Minamata disease victims, and through this the world came to know not only of the seriousness of the pollution problems in Japan, but also of corporate and state attitudes toward environmental destruction. The first official Japanese government report to the Stockholm conference, on the state of Japan's environment, made no mention of Minamata disease. People in Japan, in reading the official report, were angered by this lack of honesty on the part of their government, and in response produced a citizens' report which described not only Minamata disease but also the many other pollution diseases and problems that Japan was suffering from. This same citizens' group decided also to send both Minamata disease victims and Kanemi PCB poisoning victims to the United Nations conference. Faced with this reality, the government of Japan hurriedly produced a special supplementary report on the Minamata disease and other pollution-related problems, so as to maintain a semblance of integrity at this international gathering.
The Minamata disease victims who attended the various non-governmental organization (NGO) meetings in Stockholm reported to the world on the misery of the many pollution victims in Japan, and pleaded for a world in which such misery would no longer be allowed. At that time Japan was seen from outside as being a model of perfection in its rapid economic development and modernization programmes encouraged by the government's high-economic-growth policies; but the Minamata disease and other serious pollution-related diseases and problems showed the other side of the high-economic-growth coin, and the revelation of such great pain and suffering in Japan made the world, and especially the developing nations, much more aware of the extreme social costs inherent in excessively rapid economic development and industrialization. Within this context also, the Minamata disease victims became aware of the well-developed social welfare programmes in Sweden, and were amazed at the difference between these and the almost non-existent programmes in Japan.
The sit-down strike of the Minamata disease victims in front of Chisso corporate headquarters became known worldwide. As far as the Chisso Company and the Metropolitan Police were concerned, the strikers were nothing more than troublemakers' and administrative officials were anxious for a chance to remove them from their encampment. Many attempts were made to throw them off the premises but such efforts were unsuccessful. For example, there would be daily encounters between the strikers and company employees aimed at stirring up the kind of trouble that would result in the arrest of Kawamoto and his supporters. In October 1972 the Chisso Company attempted to remove the tents of the strikers and at the same time demanded withdrawal of the legal suit against the company. Kawamoto refused to yield to this pressure, so the company brought a counter-indictment charging Kawamoto with injury. Later this charge was thrown out of court as injurious to the Minamata disease victims. This was the first time in Japan's legal history that such a suit was to be rejected by a court as out of order. At the same time the effect of this counter-suit against Kawamoto was a change in the negotiating stance taken by the many Minamata disease victims in Minamata City who were dealing with the company through the pollution negotiation committee established by the government. Some of the direct negotiation group began to question the motives of the government's negotiating committee and in the process decided to investigate the veracity of the seals on the proxies presented to the committee from some of the patients. This led to the discovery that some of the proxies had been forged. This kind of injustice was not rare in pollution-issue struggles, but this was the first time that such a practice had been discovered and verified. With proof of this kind of perfidy, the government's negotiation committee lost its credibility and thereby its authority, and because of this it was unable to complete any negotiations before the civil court handed down its verdict. In March 1972, the Minamata civil court case ended with a verdict in favour of the plaintiffs, the Minamata disease victims. The patients who won the lawsuit then went to Tokyo in order to negotiate compensation details with the Chisso Company, and joined in the struggle there with the direct negotiation group. In July 1973, through the direct mediation of the director of the Environment Agency, the Chisso Company promised to pay to all designated Minamata disease patients more in compensation than was guaranteed by the court decision. With this series of events the sit-down strike, which had gone on for more than a year and a half, was brought to an end.
XII. The third Minamata disease and administrative-level perfidy
The Medical Department of Kumamoto University, which in 1971 had begun making surveys in relation to a second outbreak of Minamata disease, instituted research on a broader epidemiological basis designed to provide predictions about the situation ten years into the future. Symptoms among patients in heavily polluted and more lightly polluted areas were recorded and compared. In order to compare these two levels of pollution, the research team also made a survey of the Ariakecho area. Here also, in spite of its distant location from the original pollution sources, people were discovered who had disease symptoms very much like those of the Minamata disease patients. Furthermore, there was no denying the possibility that there also could be mercury pollution in other areas. In May 1973, the mass media reported this fact, calling it the "third Minamata disease." With news related to PCB and mercury poisoning springing up all over Japan, the report of a "third Minamata disease" brought panic to the fishing industry. Between 1972 and 1973, just before the "oil shock" struck, Japan was at the peak of its high-economic-growth period and there was also extraordinary activity in the money markets; all these factors created a great deal of national anxiety. Also, because of the excessive overloading of petrochemical complex production capacities, there had been a continuing series of fires and explosions. Groups of local fishermen began to react by cementing up the sea-polluting effluent discharge pipes from various manufacturing plants, and the entire nation was subject to a great deal of social apprehension. The government of Japan could no longer ignore the great increase in environmental destruction. With the co-operation of selected medical professionals, the government began to make surveys of the general health of the people living in the most polluted areas, in order to deal with the fear and consternation that had been created by an ever-expanding circle of discoveries revolving around Minamata disease. The results of the survey indicated that 158 Minamata disease patients had been discovered in a sample of 50,000 persons. However, 114 of the 158 had already been designated Minamata disease patients, and later surveys indicated that even greater numbers than reported in the survey had also been designated as victims. Therefore, it came to be understood that this medical survey had been carried out only to manipulate public opinion. The survey doctors were told that the disease patients who came to be examined were only there in order to obtain reparations. The third Minamata disease patients were examined in this light and were recognized as victims only when they displayed typical and classic symptoms of mercury poisoning. Thus, through these procedures, a group of so-called medical professionals concluded that there were no third Minamata disease patients.
Within this context, organic mercury poisoning, as seen in the case of the Minamata disease, was understood not in terms of its effects on the whole body, but rather in terms of localized pathologies relative to specific target organs. Within the context of these new and yet unencountered medical situations, the medical profession was unable to make investigations on the basis of the realities at hand, but simply applied generalizations based on theoretical orientations derived from the work of others. This of course is a serious problem that constantly haunts the development of scientific methodology related to environmental destruction, as research is always limited to quantifiable phenomena. As a result, no meaningful surveys were carried out in relation to the problem of mercury poisoning.
The Minamata Disease Patient Examination Committee, which was instituted by Kumamoto Prefecture, was dissolved when the terms of the individual members came to an end (1974-1975), and this brought to an almost complete halt any attempts at designating Minamata disease victims. The results of this were no measurable increases in the number of designated patients. From 1975 onward, the work of the prefecture in designating disease victims declined, and even those persons that were considered either were treated as marginal cases or had their applications rejected. At this very time, encouraged by the successes of Kawamoto's movement, the number of persons who were applying for recognition and designation as Minamata disease patients was on the increase, and by 1975 there were more than 3,000 people seeking this kind of help.
In many instances, journalists for sensationalist newspapers would write articles about so-called fake Minamata disease victims. A good example of this was to be seen in 1975 when the chairman of the Kumamoto Prefecture Special Committee on Environmental Pollution made some remarks about non-genuine Minamata disease victims while visiting the Environment Agency. Because of his position as a public servant, his words carried a lot of weight and had a resounding effect on the mass media. In response to this irresponsible sensationalism, the Minamata disease victims staged a public direct action protest which resulted in the arrest and prosecution of many of them. This same kind of irresponsible agitation through the mass media was repeated both in central and local government-related politics, with many believing that there was a continuing effort to manipulate public opinion against the disease victims.
The effluent discharge from the Chisso Company's Minamata complex was halted only after the operation of the complex ceased owing to worsening profit margins. Under the depressed economic conditions of the time, a plan, funded through public investment, was proposed to remove several hundred tons of mercury-contaminated sludge from the bay. With the Minamata facility suffering from economic hard times, and the payments to disease victims ever on the increase, people welcomed this large-scale reclamation project as a way of refloating the local economy. But some of the Minamata disease patients were very apprehensive about the plan, for stirring up the sea bottom could easily cause an increase in the human suffering caused by mercury poisoning. With this opposition in mind, Kumamoto Prefecture' in cooperation with the university, formed a committee to determine the safety of the reclamation project. In fact, the purpose of the committee was to legitimize the project. An opposition group consisting of Minamata disease victims and local citizens sought a legal injunction against the plan, but the battle was lost in court and the reclamation of the mercury-contaminated area is now in progress.
The Chisso Company management, which was suffering under the burden of the large payments that had to be made to designated disease victims, was also experiencing further difficulties because of the depressed condition of the chemical industry sector of the economy. As a result, it gradually came to a point where it could no longer make payments to disease victims, and asked for help from public funding sources, asking the government to pay reparations to patients on a temporary basis. The government decided to loan money to the Chisso Company on condition that the prefectural government, backed up by the national loan office, issue bonds for the purpose and that the funds be raised from bank purchases of the bonds. This system of using publicly guaranteed funds to shore up private enterprise was much criticized, but for the next three years on an experimental basis, and then after that on a permanent basis, this system was operated.
In the summer of 1978, a Vice-Minister of the Environment Agency issued new guidelines for Minamata disease patient designation standards according to which disease designation would only be allowed in medically established high-probability cases and deaths would not be admissible for designation unless an examination found hard evidence as to the probable cause of death and the body was made available for research purposes. The disease victims recognized these moves as a governmental attempt to limit the number of disease patients when the number of applicants for examination was on the increase. In reality, after this change in the ground rules, the number of applicants whose cases were rejected greatly increased.
In 1973, when Takeo Miki, the Director of the Environment Agency, visited Minamata, he promised to make a complete survey of the epidemic area as a high-priority state project, and as a result the National Minamata Disease Research Centre was built in Minamata City. However, in the process of planning the project, Dr. Takeo Tamiya, who was a leading figure in one of the former non-functioning Minamata disease committees set up by the government, was once again made head of the survey project, and, as in the case of the former committee, the voices of the Minamata disease victims were not heard. As a result of these factors, the disease patients refused to cooperate with the work of the new centre. Although the centre housed the best and most modern medical equipment and facilities available anywhere, it was unable to function at all. As is very clear from this and many other examples, lacking the participation, recognition, and co-operation of disease victims, governmental action in regard to the Minamata disease has been and remains inept.
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