Minamata is located on the Western coast of Kyushu, Japan's southernmost island. In 1932 the Chisso Corporation, an integral part of the local economy since 1907, began to manufacture acetaldehyde, used to produce plastics. As we know now, to spill into the bay. Though no one knew mercury from the production process began until decades later, the heavy metal became incorporated into methyl mercury chloride: an organic form that could enter the food chain. At the time, Minamata residents relied almost exclusively on fish and shellfish from the bay as a source of protein. For us, today, the threat of pollution is immediately evident. But one must not fail to appreciate the historical context in which neither scientific experience nor a pervasive environmental awareness could offer such an explicit warning. Minamata disease is a neurological syndrome caused by severe mercury poisoning. The symptoms include ataxia, numbness in the hands and feet, general muscle weakness, narrowing of the field of vision, and damage to hearing and speech. In extreme cases, insanity, paralysis, coma, and death follow within weeks of the onset of symptoms. A congenital form of the disease can also affect fetuses in the womb. MINAMATA DISEASE
MINAMATA DISEASE: THE BEGINNING On April 21, 1956, a five year-old girl was examined at the Chisso Corporation's factory hospital in Minamata, Kumamoto, Japan, a town on the west coast of the southern island of Kyūshū. The physicians were puzzled by her symptoms: difficulty walking, difficulty speaking and convulsions. Two days later her younger sister also began to exhibit the same symptoms and she too was hospitalised. The girls' mother informed doctors that her neighbour's daughter was also experiencing similar problems. After a house-to-house investigation eight further patients were discovered and hospitalised. On May 1, the hospital director reported to the local public health office the discovery of an "epidemic of an unknown disease of the central nervous system", marking the official discovery of Minamata disease. To investigate the epidemic, the city government and various medical practitioners formed the Strange Disease Countermeasures Committee at the end of May 1956. Owing to the localised nature of the disease, it was suspected to be contagious and as a precaution patients were isolated and their homes disinfected. Although contagion was later disproved, this initial response contributed to the stigmatisation and discrimination experienced by Minamata victims from the local community. During its investigations, the committee uncovered surprising anecdotal evidence of the strange behaviour of cats and other wildlife in the areas surrounding patients' homes. From around 1950 onward, cats had been seen to have convulsions, go mad and die. Locals called it the "cat dancing disease”, owing to their erratic movement. Crows had fallen from the sky, seaweed no longer grew on the sea bed and fish floated dead on the surface of the sea. As the extent of the outbreak was understood, the committee invited researchers from Kumamoto University to help in the research effort.
MINAMATA DISEASE The Kumamoto University Research Group was formed on August 24, 1956. Researchers from the School of Medicine began visiting Minamata regularly and admitted patients to the university hospital for detailed examinations. A more complete picture of the symptoms exhibited by patients was gradually uncovered. The disease developed without any prior warning, with patients complaining of a loss of sensation and numbness in their hands and feet. They became unable to grasp small objects or fasten buttons. They could not run or walk without stumbling, their voices changed in pitch and many patients complained of difficulties seeing, hearing and swallowing. In general these symptoms deteriorated and were followed by severe convulsions, coma and eventually death. By October 1956, 40 patients had been discovered, 14 of whom had died: an alarming mortality rate of 35%. Researchers from Kumamoto University also began to focus on the cause of the strange disease. They found that the victims, often members of the same family, were clustered in fishing hamlets along the shore of Minamata Bay. The staple food of victims was invariably fish and shellfish from Minamata Bay. The cats in the local area, who tended to eat scraps from the family table, had died with symptoms similar to those now discovered in humans. This led the researchers to believe that the outbreak was caused by some kind of food poisoning, with contaminated fish and shellfish being the prime suspects. On November 4 the research group announced its initial findings: "Minamata disease is rather considered to be poisoning by a heavy metal... presumably it enters the human body mainly through fish and shellfish."
Environmental Impact Assessment is a formal process used to predict the environmental consequences (positive or negative) of a plan, policy, program, or project prior the implementation decision, it proposes measures to adjust impacts to acceptable levels or to investigate new technological solution. Although it can lead to difficult economic decisions, strong political and social commitments, but it protects environment which sounds basis for effective and sustainable development. The purpose of the assessment is to ensure that decision makers consider the environmental impacts when deciding whether or not to proceed with a project, whether or not the project shall be continued. In Minamata case, we can see that there is no practice of Environmental Impact Assessment prior to the disposal of the mercury to the Minamata Bay. The Chisso Company did not concern about the long-term effect and outcome that will be occurred after the waste disposal to the Minamata bay that caused such disease. ENVIRONMENTAL IMPACT ASSESSMENT
WHAT IS THE RELATION TO THE INTERNATIONAL ENVIRONMENTAL LAW ?
Principle 7: “States shall take all possible steps to prevent pollution of the seas by substances that are liable to create hazards to human health, to harm living resources and marine life, to damage amenities or to interfere with other legitimate uses of the sea.” DECLARATION OF THE UNITED NATIONS CONFERENCE ON THE HUMAN ENVIRONMENT – 1972 STOCKHOLM DECLARATION
Principle 17: Environmental Impact Assessments “Environmental impact assessment, as a national instrument, shall be undertaken for proposed activities that are likely to have a significant adverse impact on the environment and are subject to a decision of a competent national authority.” THE RIO DECLARATION ON ENVIRONMENT AND DEVELOPMENT (“RIO DECLARATION”) OF 1992 UNITED NATIONS CONFERENCE ON ENVIRONMENT AND DEVELOPMENT)
According to Convention on Biological Diversity, Article 14 (1a) and 14 (1b): “Each Contracting Party, as far as possible and as appropriate, shall introduce appropriate procedures requiring environmental impact assessment of its proposed projects that are likely to have significant adverse effects on biological diversity with a view to avoiding or minimizing such effects and, where appropriate, allow for public participation in such procedures.” And “Introduce appropriate arrangements to ensure that the environmental consequences of its programs and policies that are likely to have significant adverse impacts on biological diversity are duly taken into account”. From that both article, we could say that in the first place (1932), Chisso Company should have considered the environmental impact caused by their Industrial waste to the environment, when they placed their Industrial waste in Minamata Bay and they should ask or notify the Japanese Government to get guidance regarding their Industrial activity and also inform the society about their industrial activity which may cause significant impact on biological diversity or environment. If Chisso Corporation follows the rules that stipulated in that both article, maybe there would be no harms or such disasters occurred. CONVENTION ON BIOLOGICAL DIVERSITY
1982 UNCLOS The 1982 UNCLOS requires the prior assessment of the effects of activities on the marine environment. Under Article 206: “When states have reasonable grounds for believing that planned activities under their jurisdiction or control may cause substantial pollution of or significant and harmful changes to the marine environment, they shall, as far as practicable, assess the potential effects of such activities on the marine environment and shall communicate reports of the results of such assessments at appropriate intervals to the competent international organizations, which should make them available to all states.” UNITED NATION CONVENTION ON LAW OF THE SEA 1982
In conclusion, we apprehend that all conventions and principles that we have mentioned before have not been established regulated at the time when Minamata disease occurred. Nonetheless, if such principles and convention existed at that time, not only Chisso Company, but Japan as the state where the Minamata disease occurred shall be liable to the impacts and losses arisen from that tragedy. First of all, the Chisso Company has the absolute liability to the disease arisen because of their waste disposal that causing severe sickness and harm to the people. Secondly, Japan as the country where the company stood at, shall stipulated about the guidelines and the importance of Environmental Impact Assessment for every company or corporation that intended to involving hazardous materials and waste within their business. CONCLUSION