The long road to full settelment of itai-itai pollution disease cases
As 45 years have passed since itai-itai disease was recognized by the state as a pollution-related disease, it was indeed a long journey for the issue to have been “fully resolved.”
The case of itai-itai disease, an affliction caused by pollution in areas along the Jinzugawa river in Toyama Prefecture, reached its resolution when Mitsui Mining & Smelting Co.—the company that caused the pollution—and a victims group signed a compensation agreement on Tuesday. The company has also made a formal apology to the victims for the first time.
The victims have grown old and many victims have died. It appears that the victims and the company responsible for the pollution have mutually conceded and reached a full settlement.
The main pillar of the agreement is that Mitsui Mining will pay a lump sum of \600,000 per person to those victims of the disease who were not recognized under the Environment Ministry’s criteria as victims of itai-itai disease and so were not eligible for compensation.
Yet those victims recognized as sufferers by the state were entitled to receive \10 million per person.
For victims who had sought to have their cases settled early, accepting the compensation proposal must have been a bitter decision.
Eligible for the lump sum compensation will be those who meet certain criteria, including a degree of kidney dysfunction that is a symptom developed at a stage leading to itai-itai disease. Nearly 1,000 people are believed to be eligible to receive the payments.
Mitsui Mining must compensate as many victims as possible.
Itai-itai disease is considered to be one of Japan’s four major pollution-related diseases, along with Minamata disease in Kumamoto Prefecture, Minamata disease in Niigata Prefecture, and Yokkaichi asthma in Mie Prefecture.
As nephropathy patients suffered from brittle bones, they moaned in pain, crying “Itai, itai (It hurts, it hurts),” which is what gave the disease its name. It was recognized by the state as the country’s first pollution-related disease in 1968.
The disease was caused by cadmium, a heavy metal, discharged from the Kamioka mine in Gifu Prefecture. The pollutant spread through the consumption of rice and other things contaminated by cadmium in the river and harvested in the affected areas.
Mitsui Mining has cleaned up the polluted soil, in addition to paying compensation to those recognized as victims. The cleanup of soil in the polluted farm land was completed last year.
Once pollution has been set off, it takes the polluter many years and hefty sums to provide relief measures to the victims and restore the environment—one lesson to be learned from itai-itai disease.
It can be said the criteria for officially recognizing sufferers of pollution-related diseases, set by the ministry, has blocked many sufferers from receiving compensation in a timely manner. As many sufferers of itai-itai disease were not recognized as sufferers until their cases became so serious that they developed the bone-softening disorder osteomalacia, those with relatively milder cases were left neglected.
Minamata disease is similar to itai-itai disease in that the ministry’s criteria for officially recognizing sufferers is rigid.
In April, the Supreme Court backed a lower court ruling that recognized a sufferer who was not recognized under the ministry’s criteria as a victim of Minamata disease. Lawsuits with sufferers of the disease seeking relief measures are still continuing in the country.
It is highly important, first and foremost, for sufferers of Minamata disease and others concerned with it to compromise.
(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, Dec. 19, 2013)