Govt, Kumamoto Pref. Appeal Minamata Disease Ruling

Yomiuri Shimbun file photo
The Osaka District Court

OSAKA (Jiji Press) — The central and Kumamoto prefectural governments filed an appeal with the Osaka High Court on Tuesday against a lower court ruling that recognized all 128 plaintiffs as sufferers of Minamata disease, or mercury poisoning caused by polluted industrial wastewater.

In its Sept. 27 ruling, the Osaka District Court ordered the central and prefectural governments and chemical maker Chisso Corp. to pay damages to the plaintiffs from 13 prefectures who were excluded from a special relief program for those with Minamata disease. Chisso appealed the ruling Wednesday.

Speaking to reporters in Tokyo, Environment Minister Shintaro Ito said the appeal is necessary because the district court ruling deviates from international scientific knowledge and past Supreme Court rulings.

The district court ruling recognized conditions with methylmercury concentrations below the World Health Organization’s safety standard as Minamata disease, Ito said.

“We’re aware of calls for swift relief, but judicial consistency is important,” Kumamoto Governor Ikuo Kabashima told reporters at the prefectural government office in the city of Kumamoto.

In 1977, the then-environment agency set rules that recognize those with at least two symptoms such as sensory impairment as Minamata disease sufferers.

A 2009 law widened the scope of relief to achieve a final resolution of the issue, giving lump-sum allowances to some 38,000 additional people.

But the eligibility of the expanded relief was determined by region of residence, prompting those who were left out to file the lawsuit.

The district court ordered the defendants to pay damages of ¥2.75 million per plaintiff, or ¥352 million in total.