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Minamata Mercury Pollution Disaster. Essay

845 words - 3 pages

Minamata Mercury Pollution DisasterMinamata and the Chisso Cooperation:Minamata is a small factory town dominated by the ChissoCorporation. The town faces the Shiranui Sea, and Minamata Bay ispart of this sea. In Japanese, "Chisso" means nitrogen. TheChisso Corporation was once a fertilizer and carbicle company, andgradually advanced to a petrochemical and plastic-maker company.From 1932 to 1968, Chisso Corporation, a company located inKumamoto Japan, dumped an estimated 27 tons of mercury compoundsinto Minamata Bay. Kumamoto is a small town about 570 milessouthwest of Tokyo. The town consists of mostly farmers andfisherman. When Chisso Corporation dumped this massive amount ofmercury into the bay, thousands of people whose normal dietincluded fish from the bay, unexpectedly developed symptoms ofmethyl mercury poisoning. The illness became known as the"Minamata Disease". The mercury poisoning resulted from years ofenvironmental destruction and neglect from Chisso Corporation.Chisso Corporation started developing plastics, drugs, and perfumesthrough the use of a chemical called acetaldehyde in 1932.Acetaldehyde is produced using mercury as a compound, and was keycomponent in the production of their products. Not until the mid-1950's did people begin to notice a "strangedisease".The "Minamata Disease":Victims were diagnosed as having a degeneration of theirnervous systems. Numbness occurred in their limbs and lips. Theirspeech became slurred, and their vision constricted. Some peoplehad serious brain damage, while others lapsed into unconsciousnessor suffered from involuntary movements. Furthermore, some victimswere thought to be crazy when they began to uncontrollably shout.People thought the cats were going insane when they witnessed"suicides" by the cats. Finally, birds were strangely droppingfrom the sky. Series of these unexplainable occurrences werebringing panic to Minamata.Mercury Concentrations:Fish & Shellfish Cats Humansoyster 5.6control 0.9-3.66controlless than 3.0gray mullet 10.6 kidney 12.2-36.1 kidney 3.1-144.0short-necked clam 20.0liver 37-145.5liver 0.3-70.5china fish 24.1brain 8-18brain 0.1-24.8crab 35.7hair 21-70hair 96-705Mercury Concentrations in Tissue Samples (ppm)*Minamata's food chains dramatically illustrate the `concentration of elements'--in this case, of mercury--in successive trophic levels. Assays of tissue from fish and shellfish from the bay, and from cats and humans who died from the poisoning, show high concentrations of mercury. Kidney and liver concentrations indicate how the bodies tried--unsuccessfully--to excrete and detoxify the heavy metal.Mercury:The Minamata case is such a vivid example because the town and the bay where the mercury was dumped may be seen as a relatively closed system. The ecological consequences, which are often diffuse and indirect, may be seen as a closed loop: the effects of the effluent led gradually but nevertheless inevitably back to...

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