【明報專訊】From around 1950, cats living along the shore of Minamata Bay, Japan widely developed convulsions (抽搐), lunacy (精神錯亂), and suicidal tendencies. Unidentified, the phenomenon was locally referred to as the "cat-dancing disease". Few had envisaged the mass industrial pollution disaster implied.
A few years later, children displayed similar symptoms, along with distortion at birth, numbness, loss of vision, speech and motor abilities etc. Soon, the same was seen in adult residents. The irreversible and fatal disease plagued the quiet fishing clusters.
Its cause? Mercury poisoning. As it turned out, Chisso, a conglomerate (大企業) chemical producer, has been discharging wastewater with a fatal level of heavy metal into the river. While early internal research clearly revealed the damage of mercury pollution, the company abruptly halted the studies, and repeatedly denied any responsibility for the residents' sufferings. Organised mobs were hired to intimidate resident-protesters into silence. In 1959, the factory even installed a water cyclator which would allegedly purify wastewater before discharging. It was later disclosed as a mere PR stunt with no real impact. Nevertheless, it won the trust from people and researchers alike, severely delaying further studies and treatments.
Sadly, instead of standing their ground together, many Minamata residents bore strong loyalty towards Chisso, the largest employer in the area. Victim-shaming was common. Today, Chisso continues to operate, with little reference on their website to this historical incident. In addition to the immoral practices of conglomerates, the situation shed light on the distorted relationship between working-class individuals and their oppressing employers, very much driven by the capitalistic production structure and pursuits we still live among today.
Much of this fight was adapted into Johnny Depp's latest film, Minamata (《毒水曝光》). While the film made major changes to the sequence of events and bordered blind heroism, it nevertheless provides an accessible narrative for us to relive the pain of the Minamata victims. The end credits of the movie were particularly appalling — the sheer list of contemporary human-induced chemical disasters would send you into shudders.
Fast-forward to the present: Japan's latest plan to dump Fukushima's nuclear wastewater into the Pacific Ocean has wrecked the nerves of the international community. The plan, cheapest among the five options available, is widely condemned as irresponsible and irreversible environmental contamination. Despite the reassurance from the Japanese government, I found my faith in this too insignificant to mention.
Mona C. has a strong appetite for stories. Feed her enough.