The Minamata Convention on Mercury is signed Oct. 10, 2013, with a thousand delegates from 140 nations adopting an international treaty that controls the use and trade of mercury. The convention was named for the Japanese city that suffered thousands of deaths and injuries from uncontrolled releases of mercury by the Chisso Chemical Co. In the 1950s and 60s, “Minimata disease” was one of the world’s earliest and strongest wake-up calls for environmental protection. And yet, recognition and even minimal compensation in Japan has been a struggle for some 65,000 who have applied for help; only 3,000 have been officially recognized. That number is set to expand following an April 16, 2013 ruling of Japan’s Supreme Court.
Some Japanese activists and victims have demanded that the government conduct a thorough investigation, but so far that has not taken place.
We can only observe with concern that i took over 55 years for Japan and the international community to seriously recognize the broader implications of Minamata disease, despite obvious need. It indicates the extraordinary weakness of environmental laws.
Still, as Environmental Health News noted:
The UN mercury treaty now bears Minamata’s name. This creates a special obligation to meet the demands of mercury-poisoned victims in the Japanese seaside city and transform a human tragedy into an opportunity for change…
For a good overview of Minamata history, see WBUR’s “Here & Now” program interview with Timothy S. George.