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Itai-itai disease was first noticed in the Junzu River basin region in Toyama Prefecture in central Japan around the 1930s. However, it was not identified as a cadmium poisoning disease until the 1960s. A local physician, with cooperation from outside experts, confirmed that the disease was caused by pollution from the Kamioka mine of the Mitsui Mining and Smelting Co. Ltd., located in the upstream region of the river. In the mid-1960s, the victims of Itai-itai disease filed a suit against the company and won their case in 1972. The victims received compensation and signed a pollution control agreement with the company. The case of Itai-itai disease is a rare example of successful pollution control in Japan, because the ensuing 40-year annual inspections, based on the pollution control agreement, show that cadmium concentrations in the river have been reduced to natural levels. By analyzing the roles of various experts involved, this case study has contributed substantially to the understanding of the nature of expertise and the significance of public participation in the resolution of environmental problems. The author suggests some lessons learned from the Itai-itai case are applicable to the environmental regeneration of areas degraded by the recent Fukushima nuclear disaster.
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In his Special Message to the Congress on Environmental Quality, February 10, 1970, U. S. President Richard Nixon said vaguely that “by ignoring environmental costs we have given an economic advantage to the careless polluter over his more conscientious rival” (Nixon 1971, p. 96). Michio Hashimoto, the head of the pollution department at the Ministry of Health and Welfare of the Japanese government then, thought that Nixon implicitly criticized Japan as such an unfair polluter (Hashimoto 1988, p. 157).
There is a section “Yondai Kogai Saiban no Kyokun (in Japanese, Lessons of the four major pollution-related lawsuits)” in the White Paper on the Environment in Japan for 1973 (Kankyo-cho 1973). The section describes each lawsuit and emphasizes the importance of anti-pollution measures by private companies in industry in Japan.
Cadmium is located just below zinc in the Periodic Table and its properties are similar to those of zinc. Most cadmium in nature occurs as atomic substitution for zinc in zinc minerals and it is produced as an associate product when zinc ores are reduced. http://www.mii.org/Minerals/photocad.html (accessed July 30, 2014).
The book by Matsunami ( 2010) is the most comprehensive and readable book that analyzes every aspect of Itai-itai disease and related cadmium poising in Japan. The book was first published in 2002 as Itai- itai byo no kioku (The Memory of Itai-itai disease) with around 230 pages. However, the book was revised and expanded successively for a short period and became a more than 600-page thick cyclopedic book. Matsunami lists 195 officially designated victims of Itai-itai disease between 1967 and 2008, and says that around 200 victims must have died before 1967, when the official system of certification of victims was initiated.
There were only three male victims (1.5 %) out of 195 victims officially designated between 1967 and 2008 (Matsunami 2010, p. 453).
Mitsui Company was founded by the Mitsui family, a merchant family in the 17th century. After the Meiji Restoration, the family established Mitsui Company in 1872 and in 1876 the Company was reorganized into Mitsui Bank, Japan’s first private bank and Mitsui Bussan, a trading company. These two companies, together with Mitsui Mining, established in 1888, became the core enterprises of one of the largest corporate conglomerates ( zaibatsu) in modern Japan.
Smelters in Kamioka started to operate only in 1943 (Matsunami 2010, p. 88).
Japan took advantage of the absence of European powers in Asia, due to the War, to expand its influence in Asia and in the Pacific. It enjoyed an economic boom and unprecedented prosperity, and the years between 1910 and the 1920s marked a turning point for the Japanese economy.
The first cadmium production for industrial use in Japan began in 1929. Cadmium was first used for pigments and as a component in low melting alloys. Today, cadmium is used mainly in batteries (especially Ni-Cd batteries) (Matsunami 2010, pp. 126–128).
Toyama Shinbun, August 4th 1955. See also the photo reproduction of the article in Matsunami’s book (Matsunami 2010, p. 10).
Shozo Tanaka (1841–1913), a statesman and a member of the House of Representative of Japan, was famous as a leader of protest movement against the Ashio Copper Mine in Tochigi Prefecture that caused the agricultural and fishery damage in the area downstream. On Shozo Tanaka, see, for example, Yui ( 1984), Dehn ( 1995).
The compensation money was only for the agricultural and fishery damages, not for the pollution-related disease. The connection between the Itai-itai disease and mining pollution was beginning to be noticed by the mid-1950s and was confirmed in the early 1960s.
Yoshioka later published his conclusion in a local medical journal (Yoshioka 1964).
Jun Kobayashi was born in Kurashiki, Okayama Prefecture. He graduated from the Agricultural Department of Tokyo Imperial University. After working at agricultural experimental stations of the Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry, he worked as research associate at Ohara Agricultural Institute. After World War II, he became a faculty member of Okayama University, a national university in Okayama Prefecture. He retired in 1975.
According to Hashimoto’s autobiographical reminiscences (Hashimoto 1988, pp. 19–66), he was born in Osaka in 1924. He graduated in 1948 from the Medical School of Osaka University and worked as doctor in the Public Health Center of the Osaka Prefecture. He was first sent to study at the National Institute of Public Health of the Ministry of Health and Welfare in Tokyo for a year and, in 1954, he was sent to the United States for one year to study public hygiene (a Master’s course) at the Harvard School of Public Health. After returning to Japan, he was recruited in 1957 by the Department of Public Health of the Ministry of Health and Welfare. In 1972, he moved to the Environment Agency, established in the previous year. After an early retirement in 1978 he became professor of Public Health at Tsukuba University, which was a newly established national university.
The Association was first established as Dai- Nihon Shiritsu Eisei- kai (The Great Japan Private Public Health Society) in 1883.
Hashimoto referred to the case of Minamata disease as this type of untimely decision (Hashimoto 1988, p. 145). This was one of earliest announcements in Japan by the government officials based on what later became known as precautionary principle. Even earlier, Mitsuo Taketani (1911–2000), a theoretical physicist and philosopher, stated that one should not do nuclear weapon tests without the proof of their safety, while military leaders overseas claimed that they could because of lack of scientific proof of their danger (Taketani 1957, p. 36). One can consider Taketani’s idea as a precursor of the principle.
Hagino was much criticized and was under pressure not to work on Itai-itai disease. He even almost gave up studying the disease and he traveled to the United States and Europe to escape the unsettled situation during 1963 and 1964 (Matsunami 2010, pp. 158–159).
See the introduction to this paper. The Yokkaichi pollution disease patients followed in September 1967. Finally, after initiation of the Itai-itai disease case, Minamata disease victims filed a suit again Chisso Cooperation, the source of mercury pollution, in June 1969.
In fact, even though the Jinzu River flows through the Toyama basin, the only area ridden with the disease relied on river water for agricultural irrigation as well as for human consumption.
This matter was discussed even in Diet (Japanese parliament) in 1970. See the 63rd Diet minutes of the Industrial pollution prevention special committee on April 1 ( http://kokkai.ndl.go.jp/SENTAKU/syugiin/063/0620/06304010620006c.html) and the 64th Diet minutes of the legal committee on December 8th ( http://kokkai.ndl.go.jp/SENTAKU/syugiin/064/0080/06412080080004c.html).
Matsunami played an important role in various pollution-related lawsuits, including the SMON (subacute myelo-optico-neuropathy, a drug-induced disease) lawsuit and the Minamata disease (methyl mercury poisoning) lawsuit, until his retirement in 2001.
The Itai-itai disease suit did not seem to cause any damage to Takeuchi’s career. He was born in Chiba Prefecture and graduated from the medical school of Tokyo Imperial University in 1944. In 1974, he became a professor at the Tokyo Medical and Dental University, a prestigious national medical university in Tokyo, and he later became the Director of the University’s hospital. He was even elected president of the Japanese Society of Internal Medicine, one of the oldest and most prestigious medical societies.
There were six other lawsuits.
Takaya Kodama was born in Ashiya, Hyogo Prefecture, not far from Osaka. He graduated from Waseda University. In 1974, he was noticed because of an investigative report on Kakuei Tanaka, the Prime Minister of Japan. He died of cancer on May 22, 1975 (Sakagami 2003). Sakagami, who wrote Kodama’s biography, sees Kodama’s article on Itai-itai disease as the only negative thing in his writing career.
See Toyama Broadcasting’s documentary TV program “30 nen-me no gurei-zon: Kankyo-osen to kono kuni no katachi (in Japanese, 30th year’s gray zone: Environmental pollution and the state of this country),” which criticizes the activity of Shigematsu’s research group on Itai-itai disease and which received the Japan Congress of Journalists’ Prize for 1999. This TV program was broadcast in January 1999.
Shigematsu became a professor in the medical school at Kanazawa University, the Head of the Department of Epidemiology in the National Institute of Public Health in Japan, and the Chairman of the Radiation Effects Research Foundation, a research foundation that studies the effects of radiation in the survivors of the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. He received the Sievert Prize for his work on Radio-epidemiology.
Shigematsu chaired research committees on subacute myelo-optico-neuropathy (a drug-induced disease that occurred in the 1960s in Japan), Kawasaki Disease, Itai-itai disease, and Minamata disease. For the criticism of Shigematsu regarding Minamata disease, see Tsuda ( 2004, pp. 174–181).
Yomiuri Shinbun, November 1972, Toyama edition pp. 12–13; Yoyama Shinbun, November 1972, p. 15.
The annual inspection group is now divided into seven subgroups. On August 2010, the 39th annual inspection was held, with around 110 participants in the seven subgroups—including, for the first time, four officials from Toyama Prefecture. Kitanihon Broadcasting (KNB), a local broadcast network in Toyama Prefecture, reported the new on the visit on August 10, 2010.
According to the Pollution Protection Agreement, persons whom the Residents’ Association considers to be necessary can participate in the inspection; outside participants, including researchers and ordinary citizens, belong to this category.
According to Akio Hata, who has been studying environmental problems in the Kamioka mine for a long time and who participated in various inspections of the mine in an earlier period, by 1998, the total number of residents who had participated totaled over 5,000, and the number of experts added up to 1,700 (Hata 1998, p. 2). By 2010, the number of participating residents reached 6,000 (Hata 2011). In 2011, Hata mentioned that the number of “experts” by 2011 was 1,000 (Hata 2011), but this number did not include lawyers. Adding the number of lawyers who participated in the inspections would bring the number of experts up to about 2,000 by 2011 (A. Hata pers. comm.).
The following five groups were organized in the project:
On the effluent from the Kamioka mine and refinery (Kyoto University)
On the smoke emissions from the Kamioka refinery (Nagoya University)
On the cadmium balance of the Kamioka refinery (University of Tokyo)
On the sedimentation and outflow of heavy metals into the Junzu River (Toyama University)
On the structural stability of the tailing dams at the Kamioka mine (Kanazawa University).
For the outline of the project, see Yoshida et al. ( 1999), p. 219.
Sometimes, the inspection by these experts would identify an unknown pollution source and appropriate countermeasures would be proposed (Kurachi et al. 1979, pp. 246–251).
Besides the annual inspection, approximately ten additional inspections are held each year, based on specific themes like drainage, ventilation, pits, abandoned mines, planting (Hata 2011).
“Environment” is always one of the most important key words in the message from the heads of the company on the internet site of the Mitsui Mining and Smelting Co. Ltd. (Message from Management, accessed August 2, 2014, http://www.mitsui-kinzoku.co.jp/en/company/c_message/).
On the Earthquake, see the relevant site of Japan Meteorological Agency ( http://www.jma.go.jp/jma/en/2011_Earthquake/2011_Earthquake.html, assessed August 7, 2014).
Akio Hata, an environmental scientist, who has been studying the Itai-itai disease problems last 40 years, has proposed several suggestions for the solution of the Fukushima nuclear disaster (Hata and Mukai 2014, pp. 226–230).
Even though there are still people suffered from damage from cadmium, the final agreement has promised the establishment of the health supporting system for the residents at Jinzu River area (Hata and Mukai 2014, pp. 16–21).
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- Itai-itai Disease: Lessons for the Way to Environmental Regeneration
- Chapter 7