Episode 319 – Minamata, Part 1

This week, we’re beginning a deep dive into the history of one of the most famous cases of environmental poisoning in Japanese history: Minamata disease. How did a chemical factory end up poisoning the people of a small town in rural Japan for years before anyone found out? And why, once it became clear that they were being poisoned, did it take so long for anything to come of it?


Tsuda, Toshihide et al. “Minamata Disease: Catastrophic Poisoning Due to a Failed Public Health Response.” Journal of Public Health Policy 30, No 1 (April, 2009).

Harada, Masazumi. “Environmental Contamination and Human Rights — CAse of Minamata Disease.” Industrial & Environmental Crisis Quarterly 8, No 2 (1994).

George, Timothy S. Minamata: Pollution and the Struggle for Democracy in Postwar Japan.


A chart from the Ministry of Health and Welfare showing how Minamata disease was passed to humans.
Another view of the factory complex.
The Chisso factory in Minamata in its heyday. At its peak, Chisso provided 1/2 of Minamata’s tax revenue.
A map of Minamata Bay and the surrounding area. Methylmercury contamination would eventually spread around the Shiranui Sea.
Noguchi Shitagau, whose Nichitsu zaibatsu was the progenitor of Chisso.