The 'Dancing Cat' Disaster of Japan | Minamata Explained | Summary and Q&A

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September 10, 2017
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The 'Dancing Cat' Disaster of Japan | Minamata Explained

TL;DR

Minamata, Japan, was a picturesque place to live until the Chisso Corporation dumped industrial waste into the bay, causing methylmercury poisoning in cats, fish, and eventually humans.

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Questions & Answers

Q: What were the symptoms experienced by the cats and humans affected by methylmercury poisoning in Minamata?

Cats exhibited uncontrollable jerking movements and eventually died. Human symptoms included numbness, fever, flailing, and loss of sight and hearing, often leading to loss of consciousness and death.

Q: How did methylmercury cross the placental barrier and cause birth defects?

Methylmercury disguises itself as a methionine, an essential amino acid, and binds to cysteine. This combination easily crosses the placenta and affects fetal development.

Q: How did the Chisso Corporation contribute to the methylmercury contamination in Minamata?

The corporation used mercury as a catalyst in their chemical manufacturing process and dumped the mercury waste into the bay, where anaerobic bacteria transformed it into highly toxic methylmercury.

Q: When did the Chisso Corporation stop dumping their wastewater into the bay, and when was the water considered safe again?

The corporation stopped dumping in 1968 after 12 years of poisoning victims. The government began cleaning up the bay in 1977, and by 1997, the water was deemed safe.

Summary & Key Takeaways

  • Minamata, Japan, was an idyllic place to live in the 1950s, with beautiful scenery and abundant seafood.

  • The Chisso Corporation, a chemical manufacturing plant, dumped mercury waste into the bay, leading to methylmercury contamination.

  • The methylmercury bioaccumulated in fish, causing severe health issues in cats and later humans, known as Minamata Disease.

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