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HOME  > Past issues  > 2017 August 23 - 29  > Entry into force of Minamata Convention first step toward creating world without victims of mercury poisoning
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2017 August 23 - 29 [SOCIAL ISSUES]

Entry into force of Minamata Convention first step toward creating world without victims of mercury poisoning

August 24, 2017
Akahata editorial (excerpts)

An international framework to protect human health and the environment from mercury poisoning, the Minamata Convention on Mercury, came into force last week. Exposure to a high level of methylmercury may cause severe physical damage, especially on the nerve systems of fetuses, infants, and children. The tragedy of the mercury-induced Minamata disease in Japan is well-known throughout the world. The number of mercury poisoning victims has been increasing mainly in developing countries. The need now for governments in the world is to implement effective measures in accordance with the Minamata treaty.

The Minamata Convention was adopted at a UN conference held in 2013 in Japan’s Kumamoto City not far from Minamata City where the Minamata disease first erupted. This international pact aims to control the mining, trade, emission, and disposal of mercury with the prohibition of the manufacture and import and export of fluorescent lights, thermometers, and other products containing mercury by 2020 in principle. Financial and technological support for developing countries is also stipulated in the accord. With the ratification of 74 nations and regions, including Japan, the U.S., and China, the treaty successfully entered into force. However, about 4,000 tons of methylmercury are still used worldwide despite the tightening of regulations.

In Japan by the 1970s, a large amount of methylmercury was used in industrial applications. The nation’s mercury consumption was once 25% of global production. Japan should play an active role in the control over mercury as its past use is linked to current environmental pollution.

At present, local governments are obliged to collect used mercury-containing products such as fluorescent light tubes. Some municipalities, however, incinerate or bury such products. The central government should establish a system to dispose mercury-containing wastes with subsidies to local governments which specifies manufacturers’ responsibility.

Japan exports to other countries domestically-collected mercury. There are concerns that such materials may be used for various purposes such as small-scale gold mining. Like European nations and America, Japan should implement a total ban on mercury exports.

It was the Japanese government which proposed that the UN convention on mercury be named after the Minamata disaster. Sixty-one years have passed since the pollution-caused Minamata disease was first identified. Even now, many Minamata disease sufferers are fighting for state compensation and relief measures. The national government should review its guidelines and standards for official recognition and relieve the sufferers from having to endure continued hardships.

Past related articles:
> Doctors: gov’t should widen criteria for recipients of Minamata disease relief measures [ October 15, 2016]
> Abe’s ‘Minamata disease eliminated’ remark receives criticism from victims[ October 11, 2013]
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