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Poisoned by Mercury

There is no justification for India refusing to sign the Minamata Convention.

Why does the Government of India drag its feet when it comes to international environmental agreements? Decidedly, not all are in the country’s interests, or at least that is the official perception. But surely something like the Minamata Convention on Mercury that many countries signed at a recent meeting in Japan, should not invite any second thoughts. Yet India, along with Russia, has held back and not yet signed the convention.

The convention draws its name from the shameful and wilful poisoning of the waters of Minamata Bay in Japan’s Kumamoto prefecture by the Chisso Corporation. The company used mercury as a catalyst to produce acetaldehyde. The untreated waste water from this process was emptied out into the bay from 1932 to 1968. In the beginning, there was little knowledge of the impact of organic mercury, or methyl mercury on the human system. In 1958, first animals, principally cats, and then humans began showing symptoms of what appeared to be an unknown disease whose symptoms included partial paralysis, convulsions, loss of hearing and sight. It took years of research and investigation by representatives of the affected people in Minamata before the Chisso Corporation admitted that the methyl mercury discharged from their factory into the water had caused the nerve damage that had led to hundreds being affected, and many deaths.

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