News FocusMercury Pollution

In Minamata, Mercury Still Divides

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Science  27 Sep 2013:
Vol. 341, Issue 6153, pp. 1446-1447
DOI: 10.1126/science.341.6153.1446

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The new global agreement to reduce mercury emissions is named after Minamata, a small seaside town in southern Japan. Some 60 years ago, it was the site of one of the world's worst mercury pollution incidents, after a chemical plant dumped the toxin into the sea for decades. Thousands of people who ate contaminated fish and shellfish became ill, disabled, or died. Many children were born with birth defects. It took decades for the company and the government to officially admit the link. Today, the episode continues to affect residents and has split the community in sometimes surprising ways.