It is 56 years since the government certified the health problem of Minamata disease, a sickness caused by mercury-laced wastewater dumped by a factory in Minamata City, Kumamoto Prefecture, to the sea. A final solution is not yet envisaged at the moment after over half a century. The government tries to close the cases with a special law, while the court rules the government's disease criteria are insufficient. More importantly, it is numerous people that have been suffering. If the Minamata cases are cleared in a half way, that will impact on the future settlement of radiation victims of the nuclear disaster at the Fukushima power plant.
WITHDRAW DEADLINE AND REVIEW DISEASE CRITERIA
Minister of Environment Hosono Goshi expressed February 3 that the government would stop accepting applications for compensation on July 31 this year, referring to the as-yet uncertified victims who would rely on the Special Act on Minamata Disease. They suffer from mercury-related impairments but they are not officially recognized as victims by the 1977 criteria.
Final Settlement Money Amounts 2.1 Million Yen
The Ministry of Environment is intended to close the cases by means of Special Act in terms of final settlements, hurrying up to 'erase' the pollutant company, Chisso Corporation.
Certified patients have been relieved in compliance with the state's criteria of 1977 which were set on the basis of multiple symptoms, for instance, of sensory disorder with narrowness of the field of vision. And therefore, many victims were excluded by the norms as their health conditions were not met. So the uncertified patients sued one after another.
The government launched a political settlement in 1995 to make a lump-sum payment amounting 2.6 million Yen to 10,000 patients. But later in 2004, the Supreme Court approved the greater sum for simple sensory impairment and many victims filed a suit to seek for certification. In 2009 Special Act on Minamata Disease was enacted to pay an initial payment of 2.1 million Yen to uncertified patients. The government tries to finalize the cases by way of this law.
In Order to Erase Chisso Corporation
The law stipulates the state shall 'help patients as much as possible' to 'settle the suits', allowing them to be eligible for financial assistance in three years after the application is accepted.
The pollutant factory at Minamata City, which had discharged methylmercury-laced wastewater to the sea to cause the disease, founded a new firm, JNC (Japan New Chisso) in January, 2011, to liquidate Chisso Corporation, watching carefully the finalization process of compensation.
When the company vanishes, patients will lose the defendant to whom they could demand indemnification and ask the government for disease certification. Minister Hosono explains that the government will do its best so that the victims might not be deserted, but in fact he simply urges them to 'apply' for compensation.
Until the end of 2011 in total 50 thousand people from Kumamoto, Kagoshima and Niigata Prefectures demanded state compensation. The number was beyond the government's estimation. It is because potential patients who had remained silent began to request indemnification because the new measure covers more pathological symptoms than those set forth in the 1977 criteria. Last December as many as 800 people applied for compensation. The number is growing.
Patients Still Suffer
The February 27 ruling from the Fukuoka High Court over the case of Mizoguchi Chie, a woman who died of the disease but was rejected by Kumamoto Prefecture Government her application for over two decades, supported the patient. It approved that the state's criteria were insufficient and inappropriate in application, being remarkable as it accused the state's behavior to stick to the law to finalize the cases.
The government of Kumamoto Prefecture, however, appealed March 8 to the Supreme Court, being unsatisfied with the decision of the local high court. Governor Kabashima Ikuo told, referring to the reasons, it was hard to accept the ruling which undermines the basis of the state's system. However, it was the state and the prefecture that emphasized that 'the certificate system is not denied' in the court decision.
In fact the administrative offices have not obeyed the court orders on the ground they 'turn down the very basis of the certificate system' and have compelled patients and plaintiffs to suffer. Such a behavior cannot be legitimate.
If the ruling from the Fukuoka High Court is taken seriously into account, the policy of the Ministry of Environment to set a deadline date must be cancelled immediately as it closes a door to a solution. The government should review the 1977 criteria and design a better scheme to save victims.
March 20, 2012