More than 65,000 people not officially recognized as victims of Minamata disease, despite having symptoms of Japan’s worst case of industrial pollution, have applied for compensation.
The 65,151 applicants, which were announced Aug. 30, are roughly twice the number initially expected.
If deemed eligible, applicants who suffer from numbness, a symptom characteristic of Minamata mercury poisoning disease, can receive medical expenses plus 2.1 million yen ($26,700) in a lump sum payment. But they will not be recognized as Minamata disease patients under government standards.
The Environment Ministry initially expected more than 30,000 people would apply.
Kumamoto, Kagoshima and Niigata prefectures accepted applications between May 2010 and July 2012. The number of applicants sharply increased after the government set July 31 as a final deadline for applications.
Victims organizations and the Japan Federation of Bar Associations have criticized the government for stopping accepting applications, saying many victims who do not meet government standards are being abandoned.
Minamata disease, officially identified in 1956, was caused by mercury-contaminated wastewater that was dumped into Minamata Bay in Kumamoto Prefecture by a Chisso Corp. chemical factory.
Residents of Kumamoto and Kagoshima prefectures developed numbness, impairment of vision and other symptoms after eating fish and shellfish from the bay in which organic mercury had accumulated. Many victims died.
Some people in Niigata Prefecture have also suffered from a similar case of mercury poisoning.
To date, around 3,000 people have been officially recognized as Minamata disease patients.
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