Saturday, January 5, 2013

Minamata Disease and the Development of the Pollution Ethic

I was doing some background research today on metal pollution and I ran into this interesting document from the Minamata Disease Municipal Museum.  It is a fascinating brief about Minamata disease.
The Minamata Disease Memorial in Minamata Japan.
Click for photo credit.
I became familiar with the Minamata illnesses when I was doing research on lead pollution for my dissertation back in the late 1980's.  Minamata disease is an illness caused by methyl mercury poisoning.  Throughout the mid-20th Century, an industrial company in Japan in the city of Minamata released wastewater into  the environment--most importantly into the surrounding sea.  The mercury bioaccumulated in fish and shellfish.  Eventually, the impacts on public health were obvious and thousands of people became ill from eating local seafood.

The company that released the effluent knew of the problems but continued to release the pollution into the mid-1960's.  Eventually, the company was brought to trial and fined significantly.

The document provides significantly more detail.  But, the discovery of Miamata disease and the eventual trial are among the most important events in the development of environment ethics around industrial pollution.

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