While it is possible to see, at the moment, a film on the Minamata scandal featuring actor Johnny Depp as photographer W. Eugene Smith who helped to realize the scale of the disaster Globally, here is Mr. Masima Ogato, survivor of the disease, who tells his story.
Masima Ogata is a survivor of Minamata disease, a debilitating disease caused by industrial mercury poisoning, originally from the Japanese town of the same name in the 1950s. While a UN conference on preventing future outbreaks poisoning begins, we hear the story of Mr. Ogata.
As a storyteller at the Municipal Museum of Disease in Minamata, Mr. Ogata helps keep alive the memory of what is considered one of the most serious pollution incidents in Japan of the 20th century.
The incident was caused by the release of toxic chemicals from an industrial factory, which accumulated in shellfish and fish, and were then consumed by the local population.
More than 2,000 people have been recognized as victims, many of whom, including Mr. Ogata, have had to fight for recognition and compensation: around 20 members of his family have been affected by the disease, which causes muscle weakness, peripheral vision loss and hearing and speech disturbances.
“Minamata disease first caused damage to my family in September 1957. When I was almost two years old, my grandfather Fukumatsu Ogata suddenly developed an unexplained illness, which was getting worse with each passing day. with convulsions and drooling, difficulty walking, speech problems, and other symptoms. "
Two months later, he died in the Isolation and Infectious Diseases Department of Minamata City Hospital. This was the first tragedy caused by Minamata disease in the Ogata family. However, we were never told what was causing the illness. My sister Hitomi, who was born a week before her grandfather developed the disease, was born with a disability, again without explanation, and then other members of the Ogata family began to fall ill one after the other. others.
When I became an adult, I noticed that I had very little feeling in my limbs. I work as a carpenter and when I was younger I would often cut my finger on the whetstone when sharpening knives because my finger would sag.
We came to understand that this was the result of methylmercury poisoning, but we couldn't really publicize the fact that we were victims because people thought Minamata's disease was contagious.
W. Eugene Smith tribute photo.
Rumors spread though, and we could hear people saying no one should marry a member of the Ogata family. I got married when I was 20, but on our engagement day my wife got a phone call. As she named me, the person told her, “The man you are trying to marry is a victim of Minamata disease. The whole family will be devastated. Do you agree to get married and follow this path?
When I was younger, I hid my illness from others. I would change the subject if he presented himself, and I would say it had nothing to do with me. It was my daughter who told me that I had to live honestly. His words stayed in my chest, and I chose to stop hiding, at the age of 38.
For 10 years, my request to be officially recognized as a victim of Minamata disease was denied until, on March 15, 2007, the Governor of Kumamoto Prefecture declared that she would recognize me as a patient of Minamata disease. After receiving the certification, I wondered how I would live in the future, and then I decided to become a storyteller, so that I could tell people around the world about the disease.
Minamata, who suffered so much, adopted the United Nations Convention bearing the name of the city, which will save the lives of many people around the world. The people of Minamata suffered greatly from the disease and were torn apart, but from there we gained wonderful power, in the form of the Minamata Convention.
Minamata disease is by no means over, but in showing people around the world what victims can do and accomplish, I think the world can take courage. "
Minamata Convention on Mercury
- The Minamata Convention on Mercury is a global treaty to protect human health and the environment from the adverse effects of mercury.
- The Convention includes the prohibition of new mercury mines, the phase-out of existing mines, the phase-out and phase-out of the use of mercury in a number of products and processes, control measures emissions to air and discharges to land and water; and regulation of the informal sector of artisanal and small-scale gold mining.
- The Convention also addresses the interim storage of mercury and its disposal once it becomes waste, mercury contaminated sites, and health concerns.