Tokyo: Japan`s Prime Minister Yukio
Hatoyama on Saturday offered an apology to victims of mercury
poisoning more than 50 years after the country`s worst
industrial pollution disaster hit the fishing town of
Hatoyama made the sincerest ever government apology at
an annual memorial service in Minamata after his
administration settled a suit by more than 2,000 victims of
the poisoning in March.
"I admit responsibility for not being able to prevent
the disease from spreading and apologise from the bottom of my
heart," said Hatoyama, who became the first prime minister to
attend the annual service.
From the 1950s on a synthetic resin factory run by
chemical company Chisso Corp dumped methyl mercury into the
bay of the town on southwestern Kyushu island, poisoning the
marine habitat and the local population.
Victims suffered spasms, seizures and loss of
sensation and motor control that impaired their ability to
walk and speak. Babies were born with nervous system damage
and other mental and physical deformities.
The health problems in Minamata were first reported by
a local hospital in 1956. Although Chisso was immediately
suspected, its management denied responsibility and the plant
continued dumping mercury until 1968, when the company was
officially blamed for the health problems.
The Supreme Court in 1988 found Chisso`s then
president and then director of Chisso Minamata Factory guilty.