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VII. Fatal mistakes made in the early stages of treatment

Carbon monoxide poisoning victims should be treated on the basis of the following ten principles.

1. Physical examinations should be provided for all workers immediately after they have come out of the mine.

2. Correct information on each of the workers should be gathered so that there are data on location during the accident, the degree of consciousness, the condition of the location where the worker was, and the manner in which the worker escaped.

3. Workers should be reassured and kept quiet.

4. Good ventilation and warmth should be provided.

5. Emergency treatment should be provided for the seriously injured.

6. Immediate action should be taken to give blood transfusions, etc.

7. Individual examinations and treatment should be provided relative to the condition of each patient.

8. Regular observations should be provided for a certain length of time.

9. Appropriate treatment should be provided for mental conditions, especially in the early stages.

10. Families should be given guidance in the care of patients.

Even though the situation after the explosion was confused, the response of the Mitsui Mining Company was far from appropriate as far as these ten principles are concerned. It is not a question as to whether the victims came out of the mine on the same day or were rescued the next day. The point is that 939 people reached the entrance to the mine and, even with differences in the concentration of the carbon monoxide gas, all were carbon monoxide poisoning victims; however, they were not treated as such. The company ordered the hospitalization of only 412 workers and 572 were made to walk home.

The company management made judgements as to who should be hospitalized and who should not on the basis of whether workers could walk or not. They did not ask questions as to the condition of the location from which a worker had come, whether the worker had felt the explosion or not, or how the worker got out of the mine. They paid no attention to workers who were conscious but complained about headaches and nausea, hospitalizing only those who were unconscious or who seemed in a serious condition.

Figure 5.2 shows the conditions of the workers coming out of the mine as criteria for hospitalization. Among the workers who were directed to go home on foot, over 20 per cent were suffering from dizziness or faintness. For those who have any knowledge of carbon monoxide poisoning, it is easily understood that allowing victims to walk home is a very dangerous policy.

Management gave only a shot of vitamins to workers who had lost consciousness and mandarin oranges to those who appeared to be well. Absolutely none of the essential principles for treating carbon monoxide poisoning were maintained. Instead of allowing 530 of the workers to go home immediately, these workers should have been kept still and given appropriate medical treatment, and then the families should have been given guidance on how to handle the effects of monoxide poisoning. If this action had been taken, there would have been fewer cases of worsening health.

After the victims had gone home, they were kept busy meeting family and friends who were overjoyed to discover that they were alive. Furthermore, they also had to attend the funerals of those who had died in the disaster and visit their sick friends in hospital. In the meantime, they drank alcoholic beverages freely, which is the worst possible thing for a monoxide poisoning victim to do. Therefore, the basic rule of keeping quiet was very difficult to maintain. Most of those who went home were at a stage in the poisoning that needs very careful handling.

The monoxide poisoning victims who were hospitalized were also not treated according to the rules pertaining to this type of poisoning. They were not allowed to remain quiet because of the noise and confusion in the hospitals, and thus were subject to constant agitation. The company's hospital had 384 beds, but on the day of the mine explosion there were only 83 available. Against this backdrop, a very large number of unconscious patients were carried in and placed in operating rooms, preparation rooms, doctors' examination rooms, and waiting rooms. All of the floor space available was used to house victims, but no more than 361 additional patients could be taken in. The rest of the victims were divided among the other hospitals in the city.

Fig. 5.2. Conditions of Surviving Victims at and following the Time of Rescue (after Kyoto Kenkyuukai Hen, Kyuuen dankai ni okeru mitsui kozan no fuho sekinin no tsuikyuu, p. 76).

After coming out of their comas, many of the patients would go into wild shouting spasms, start crying, or become violent. Patients would look around the hospital in search of their relatives, and this would cause agitation that resulted in inter-family feuding. The rooms were filled with tobacco smoke. The conditions in the hospitals were of the worst possible kind.

There was no treatment available, no medical examinations, and no medicine. Most of the victims were left to fend for themselves, as the doctors were too busy taking care of the seriously ill patients and disposing of the corpses.

VIII. Carbon monoxide poisoning

Carbon monoxide poisoning is a condition in which there is an extreme lack of oxygen in the bloodstream and the body owing to the fact that carbon monoxide (CO) combines with blood haemoglobin (Hb) more readily than oxygen; with the oxygen replaced by monoxide in the body, the nerve cells of the brain, which need oxygen more than any other cells, begin to degenerate rapidly and within a short time are destroyed. Once the brain cells are dead, even if bodily health returns there are certain functions associated with the brain which never return. This is fully understood in medical circles. In serious cases, the brain is destroyed to the extent that the personality is lost and the patient becomes a living vegetable. In lighter poisoning cases, such as those seen in the Miike mine disaster, patients would regain their health but the poisoning problem would remain dormant until triggered by some change in the balance of forces in the body; they would then suffer convulsions' vomiting, headaches, dizziness, loss of the sense of balance, loss of concentration, loss of memory, and other personality changes. These facts are well known to the medical profession.

From table 5.5 it can be seen that the mine workers had been exposed to the extent that they had a 30 to 40 per cent concentration of CO-Mb in their blood. However, if oxygen levels in the blood are reduced because of carbon monoxide, and patients are then taken from the gas-polluted area and given oxygen, gradually the carbon monoxide in the blood will be replaced by oxygen so long as this oxygen is not being consumed by other forms of bodily activity. This is the most effective way of dealing with monoxide poisoning in its early stages.

Therefore, the most basic rule in mine rescue work is to prohibit walking and other bodily exercise, and this means that very careful attention must be given to people who look as if they are perfectly healthy. A good supply of fresh air is another basic form of treatment in the early stages of poisoning. In reality, however, no suitable treatment was provided for several hundred workers and these workers suffered various degrees of brain damage because of the misjudgements of mine management.

Table 5.5 Symptoms Resulting from Various Levels of CO-Mb in the Blood

CO-Mb % Symptoms
0-10 No symptoms except shortness of breath after physical labour
10-20 Slight headache with feelings of pressure toward the front of the head. Shortness of breath with medium exertion
20-30 Bad headaches, feelings of emotional excitement, insecurity, increase in the number of mistakes made, loss of memory, and rapid tiring
30-40 Severe headache, weakness, vomiting, dizziness, loss of sight, confusion
40-50 Great confusion, hallucinations, difficulty in walking, difficulty in breathing, mental stupor
50-60 Unconsciousness, coma, periodic convulsions. difficulty in breathing, weak and fast pulse, pinkness or pallor of face
60 70 Deep coma, loss of sphincter control
70-80 Deep coma, loss of reflexes, weak pulse, shallow and irregular breathing, involuntary bodily movement
Over 80 Breathing stops and death follows rapidly

Source: Koichi Ushio, "Carbon Monoxide Toxicity," in Toyohiko Miura, ed., New Handbook for Workers' Health, p. 772.

IX. Unlimited human rights exploitation

The loss of life and health cannot be compensated with money or other material goods. But for those who are victimized by the system, it is necessary to provide living expenses and to guarantee medical treatment. In the case of the Mitsui Miike coal-mine explosion the victims received very poor compensation.

For the 458 deaths, compensation was set at 500,000 yen ($1,400 at an exchange rate of 360 yen to the dollar) or 400,000 yen ($1,120) for condolence money and 100,000 yen ($480) for the funeral costs. The initial proposal by the company was 100,000 yen ($480) per death, but the Miike mine labour union demanded one million yen ($2,800), and the negotiations concluded at the 400,000 yen ($1,120) level.

Up to that time the mining companies had not paid any money to victims' families when a death occurred. This common understanding among mine-owners was brought into question when the Miike mine union demanded compensation. The executives of the union thought that the one million yen ($2,800) demand was rather high, as did the Sohyo (National Organization of Labour Unions), and in this regard the Miike mine workers were heavily criticized even by their own union organizations. This is a reflection of just how cheap life is when it comes to the profit-oriented use of working people.

On the same day as the Miike coal-mine explosion, there was a double train crash that took place at Tsurimi on the Tokaido Line in the Yokohama area. The families of the 161 people who lost their lives in this accident received 5 million yen ($14,000) per person, with a baby being compensated to the tune of 2 million yen ($5,600). Against this background the labourers at the mine would say that if one is to die it is better to die in a plane or train accident than in a coal-mine explosion, simply because the level of compensation is higher. The women who lost their husbands realized that the lives of their men were valued at much less than the baby who died in the double train accident.

Of those killed in the mine accident, 163 were members of the Miike mine labour union, 242 belonged to a second union called Shinro, 25 were members of the Shokuin union and 28 were from a supply of day-labourers. Only the Miike mine union demanded compensation for the families who lost their menfolk. However, even this union was unable to get the company to cover medical expenses for those suffering from carbon monoxide poisoning, as opposed to simple compensation for the family.

Not only those who lost sons and husbands. but also many of the families of the 839 living victims, had to endure great suffering. Of the latter, 744 victims received notices that they were considered recovered and that their medical payments would end on 26 October 1966, just three years after the incident. Only 26 people were entitled to long-term medical cover, and 59 depended on company decisions as to whether their medical payments would continue or not. Ten people were still missing.

Most of the 744 victims who had been declared "recovered" by the Ministry of Labour were. in fact, still suffering from the after-effects of carbon monoxide poisoning, showing such symptoms as mental disorder or physical weakness. However, the Mitsui Mining Company sent back-to-work orders to these people after their medical treatment had been terminated. Under these circumstances the 744 had to return to work in the mine or be forced to quit their jobs.

Because of the untenability of the situation the Miike labour union returned the back-to-work orders and the medical treatment termination notices with a request that the patient victims be re-examined. Twenty per cent of the Shinro union members and 1 per cent of the office workers' union took the same action. Those who did not return the back-to-work orders were to receive training so that they could begin work again. In this situation there were two possibilities to choose from: to go back to doing the same mining work as before, or to work outside the mine. Work in the mine was very dangerous for the victims of the previous accident; however, work outside the mine, while being less dangerous, only paid half the income of work inside.

Table 5.6 provides some indication of the status of the victims as of 1978. A very small number of the total went back to mining operations, but the number of day-labourers who went back was greater. The Miike mine union was at loggerheads with the company over the question of preventing a recurrence of the same kind of accident in the mine, insisting that people made sick by the explosion should not have to return to the work they did before. They insisted that their work should be safe, even if they had to accept lowered payments, and on this basis the union was determined to find other avenues for compensation.

Table 5.6. Status of 839 Victims of Carbon Monoxide Poisoning (as of 31 July 1978)





Day labourer


Pensioned 18 16 1 2 37
Victims declared          
recovered 370 271 77 19 737
Returned to work          
In mine 92 16 20 10 138
Outside 59 91 35 - 185
Died 7 10 3 - 20
Retired 212 154 19 9 394
Missing after retirement 2 - - 12 14
Retired with pension 13 26 2 - 41
Died while receiving pension 2 4 - - 6
Died while under observation 2 1 1 - 4
Total 407 318 81 33 839

Source: Miike Kogyosho Shirabe, S 38 nen CO chuudoku kanjato genkyo shirabe.

The poster showing the instant of the coal-dust explosion publicized a protest mass rally held at Ohmuta City Hall 17 years after the disaster.

Most of the day-labourers who had been accident victims went back to the mine. In this situation they were placed in the most difficult and dangerous circumstances. Those who had carbon monoxide poisoning symptoms walked unsteadily, and had great difficulty keeping their balance. As a result, more people were injured. These victims did not have the power of concentration needed to operate the machines, and some of them were killed or badly injured in accidents with machines.

The Miike mine labour union demanded a re-examination of the level of compensation provided by the company, but this demand was rejected by management. Finally medical expenses were provided for 737 victims of the disaster, as the company came to recognize the needs of these people. The Miike mine labour union continued their efforts to get the company to provide safe working conditions outside the mine for the victims, with the idea of rehabilitating them. In 1971, such working places were provided, and these were called the Manza and Shinko shops. At the Manza shop there was mainly flower-growing, tree nurseries, farming, and bamboo work; this was designed to employ the badly affected victims of the mine explosion. The Shinko shop was for those less affected and offered work repairing mine equipment. These programmes were established in order to protect the human rights of these workers as well as to provide meaningful employment so as to maintain pride and emotional stability.

X. Filing of suits for damage compensation

Compensation annuity payments were made to victims who had been so severely mentally damaged by the carbon monoxide as to be unable to recognize their own wives. In many cases the victims would offer violence to their family after they had returned home from the hospital, and it became increasingly clear that they were often unable to control their own emotions. In these situations, wives were required to earn the income to support the family.

These personality changes were seen among the less obviously affected victims, and for family members this radical alteration in the sum and substance of personality was difficult to deal with in the extreme. On 6 November 1972, two families who included four monoxide poisoning victims took their cases to court and demanded compensation from the Mitsui Coal Mining Company. The demand was for 20 million yen ($84,000) per family and 30 million yen ($126,000) per victim. By April 1973, a total of four families and eight victims had taken their cases to court.

On 11 May 1973, 161 families who had lost sons and husbands in the explosion, along with another 259 victims of the accident, had also entered the court struggle to seek damage compensation. The court struggle of the 259 victims is supported by the Miike coal-mine labour union, while the family cases are being fought by the particular families involved. The demands made by the 259 victims are 34,500,000 yen ($151,800) per death, 23,000,000 yen ($101,000) for patients requiring long-term hospitalization, and 11,500,000 yen ($50,600) for each of the other victims.

Ten years before, the demands were at the one million yen ($2,800) level for each death, and even this small amount was criticized by the labour unions as being too much. But with the changes in the social climate. these demands were more in line with damage claims made in relation to other forms of death and destruction emanating from technological civilization.

The court battles being waged in the civil courts are oriented toward the extraction of compensation funds from the company, but the real goal of the struggle is to get the company to change the conditions in the mine that lead to coal-dust explosions. The court proceedings provide a forum through which it has been demonstrated that the mine management completely ignored the safety of the workers, to the extent that conditions in the mine were dangerous in the extreme. A coal-dust explosion was the inevitable result of this neglect and irresponsibility.

Another purpose of the court struggle is to clarify the rights of mine workers in general. Their lives were treated as being of less value than that of a baby lost in a train accident. The families of the Miike mine workers, after their long struggle, have come to realize that the labour union movement should have as a priority the protection of the lives and health of labouring people.


Hoshino, Y. Mitsui miike CO saiban niokeru kokuhatsu no ronri [The Logic of Prosecuting Mitsui in the Miike Carbon Monoxide Case]. Hoshino Yoshiro chosa-kushuu [Collected Writings of Yoshiro Hoshino], vol. 7. Keiso Shobo, 1978.

Kyuushuu Kozan Gakkai. Sekitanko Bakuhatsu Yobo Chosa Iinkai Hen. Bobaku taisaku tanjin bakuhatsu hen. Hakua Shobo, 1950.

Mashiko, Y. Mitsui jigoku kara haiagare [Climb up from the Hell Created by Mitsui]. Gendaishi Shuppankai, 1975.

Miike Tanko Rodokumiai Hen. Miike 20 nen shiryouhen [20 Years of Data on Miike]. Rodo Junposha, 1968.

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