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2008年12月 9日 (火)


--The Asahi Shimbun, Dec. 8(IHT/Asahi: December 9,2008)

EDITORIAL: Minamata disease


Even though half a century has passed since Minamata disease was first recognized, 6,200 people are still waiting to be officially certified as suffering from the effects of mercury poisoning. The figure is an all-time high.


This is because the certification councils for Minamata disease in Kagoshima, Kumamoto and Niigata prefectures are all inactive. This amounts to nothing more than administrative negligence on their part as well as the central government.


The situation in Kagoshima has remained unchanged for the past four years. A 53-year-old man, who was denied patient status by prefectural authorities during previous screening, has filed a complaint to the Environment Ministry. The ministry revoked the prefecture's decision and ordered it to re-examine the man. It said the prefecture made an evaluation error and that he may have contracted the disease as a child. The governor has agreed to re-open the certification council to reassess this single case.


The problem in Kagoshima shows what an abnormal situation exists: Many people are still waiting for certification but are unable to do anything about it.


The way for a resolution is clear.


In 2004, the Supreme Court denied the Environment Ministry's certification standards, and came up with new criteria aimed at helping a wide range of victims. The ruling led many people to apply for certification, hoping that screening standards would change. The ministry should have scrapped the 1977 certification standards as soon as the Supreme Court made its decision.


However, the ministry refuses to do so on grounds it would "create new inequalities." The double standard between government and the court caused tremendous confusion among prefectures, with the result that their certification committees shut up shop.


To resolve this confusion, the ruling parties' project team on Minamata disease put together a solution in October 2007. According to the plan, those diagnosed with increased numbness in their limbs would be recognized as Minamata disease victims and receive lump sum compensation of 1.5 million yen per person as well as 10,000 yen each month as a medical benefit. However, Chisso Corp., the company that caused the pollution in Kumamoto and Kagoshima prefectures and which should be footing the money for the compensation, won't have anything to do with the proposal, saying that the issue has already been resolved.


The opposition Minshuto (Democratic Party of Japan) is preparing its own remedy plan which follows the Supreme Court ruling and calls for the government to initially pay the reparations and then get Chisso to refund the amount. However, submission of this bill has been postponed until after the next Lower House election.


This past autumn, Niigata Prefecture created an ordinance that provides medical benefits to those whom the prefecture recognizes as Minamata disease patients, without going through the screening process by the certification council. The prefecture's willingness to achieve a breakthrough is commendable.


However, Kumamoto and Kagoshima prefectures remain adamant that the ruling parties' new remedy plan must be implemented first before the certification councils start moving again. The main reason the situation has become so complicated and tangled is the "double standard." As long as things are left as they are, it seems we are out of workable solutions.



If the government and ruling parties are really serious about solving the Minamata disease issue, they have no choice but to review the certification standards. Without the courage to do so, the road to a complete settlement will remain long indeed.



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