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Minimata Disease and The Photography of W Eugene Smith

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Title: Minimata Disease and The Photography of W Eugene Smith


1
Minimata Disease and The Photography of W Eugene
Smith
  • Martin Donohoe
  • http//www.publichealthandsocialjustice.org

2
Outline
  • Introduction
  • Mercury and Methylmercury as pollutants
  • Minimata Disease
  • W Eugene Smith bio and photos

3
Mercury
  • Syphilis Treatment
  • - 15th Century onward
  • - abandoned 1940 for penicillin
  • Recognized as cause of disease in 19th Century
    (Hunter-Russell Syndrome)
  • - chemists, hatters

4
Mercury
  • Released into air by coal combustion, industrial
    processes, mining, and waste disposal
  • 4500 tons/yr
  • Travels throughout atmosphere and settles in
    oceans and waterways

5
Gold Mining Gold Cyanide Mercury
  • Mercury used to capture gold particles as an
    amalgam
  • Gold leached from ore using cyanide
  • Cyanide paralyzes cellular respiration
  • At least 18 tons of mine waste created to obtain
    the gold for a single 3 oz., 18k ring

6
Gold Mining and Mercury
  • Contaminated groundwater often sits in large
    toxic lakes held in place by tenuous dams
  • Release of cyanide and mercury into local
    waterways kills fish, harms fish-eating animals,
    and poisons drinking water

7
Mercury
  • Bacteria convert it to toxic methylmercury (MeHg)
  • Travels up food chain via fish
  • Long biological half-life
  • - 1-3 years in humans
  • Regulation inadequate
  • Allows cap and trade

8
Mercury
  • 16 of women of childbearing age exceed the EPAs
    safe mercury level
  • Freshwater fish mercury levels too high for
    pregnant women to eat in 43 states
  • Mercury dental amalgams pose health risks to
    pregnant women, unborn babies, and children (FDA
    Black Box Warning added 2009)

9
Minamata Bay
  • Southern Japan
  • Shiranui Sea
  • Fishing village
  • Villagers fisherman/Chisso Corporation employees
    and their families

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Chisso Corporation
  • Established 1918
  • Produced acetaldehyde for plastics, drugs,
    perfumes, photography
  • Mercury (Hg) catalyst
  • Byproduct methylmercury, dumped into bay (150
    tons over 4 decades)
  • Dumped over 60 deadly poisons, including vinyl
    chloride (cause of liver cancer)

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Chronology of Chisso's Environmental Pollution
  • 1925 - local fishing cooperative compensated for
    decreased catch
  • 1950s - bizarre behavioral changes observed in
    birds, marine fish, land vertebrates oysters
    vanish
  • 1950s / 1960s - reports in Japanese medical
    journals about human cases

15
Chronology of Chisso's Environmental Pollution
  • 1956 - cause (MeHg) of Minamata Disease
    elucidated
  • 1958-60 - reports in English medical journals
  • 1959-69 - Dr. Hosokawa's experiments
  • Cat 400
  • Other studies
  • 1959 cyclator added
  • Removed Hg, but not MeHg

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Chronology of Chisso's Environmental Pollution
  • 1965 - fishing banned in Minamata Bay after
    similar events noted in Niigata, Japan
  • 1968 - all acetaldehyde-producing plants have
    ceased operating
  • 1970 - Japan Water Pollution Control Act
  • Allowed no detectable Hg or MeHg in waste water

18
Chronology of Chisso's Environmental Pollution
  • 1997 Minimata Bay declared free of mercury
  • 2004 Japanese Supreme Court rules government
    shares responsibility for epidemic (government
    slow to react, cut off research funding in 1962)

19
Minimata Disease
  • 2578 official cases in Minamata Bay (almost 1800
    dead) many unofficial cases 10,000 received
    financial compensation
  • Social stigma / Poor health care

20
Mercury S/S, Dx, and Rx
  • S/S neuropsychiatric symptoms, excessive
    salivation/inflammation of gums, rash,
    nephropathy
  • Linked to autism
  • Dx mercury levels in air, blood, urine (gt100
    mcg/l in blood and/or urine toxic)
  • Rx chelation with BAL, penicillamine, DMPS, DMSA

21
Minimata Disease Signs and Symptoms
  • Acute / Chronic Poisoning
  • numbness, slurred speech, ataxia, unsteady gait,
    deafness, poor vision, dysphagia,
    hypersalivation, confusion, drowsiness/stupor to
    irritability/restlessness chronic liver disease,
    liver cancer, hypertension
  • death within a few months if severe
  • Rx EDTA only partially effective 

22
Minimata Disease Signs and Symptoms
  • Congenital high dose ? infertility medium dose
    ? spontaneous abortions low dose ? congenital
    disease
  • S/S poor physical growth, mental retardation,
    impaired speech/chewing/swallowing, muscle tone
    abnormalities, involuntary movements, constricted
    visual fields
  • - EDTA not effective

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Civil suit vs. Chisso (1969-73)
  • Plaintiffs awarded 66,000 for deceased victims,
    59,000 - 66,000 for survivors
  • Precedent - Niigata suit versus Showa Denko
  • 3.4 million paid out the first night, 80
    million paid out by 1975

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Civil suit vs. Chisso (1969-73)
  • Dr. Hosokawa key witness (from deathbed)
  • Identity - company employee vs. impartial
    physician with obligation to patients
  • Loyalty - company vs. to public

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Reasons for Delayed Recognition and Action
  • Science slow, unfunded/underfunded, corrupt
  • Dissemination of knowledge slow
  • Social stigma of disease, fear of contagion
  • Pressure from fisheries cooperative, Chisso
    employees

33
Reasons for Delayed Recognition and Action
  • Lack of local/world awareness of health effects
    of pollution
  • Strong government-business links in Japan,
    employee loyalty strong

34
Decreasing Causes and Limiting Consequences of
Mercury Pollution
  • Phase out coal burning power plants
  • Hospitals phasing out mercury thermometers
  • Stop buying gold (e.g., wedding rings)
  • Make healthy seafood purchases
  • Screen and treat when appropriate

35
Minimata Disease Memorial
36
W Eugene Smith
  • Born 1918, Wichita, KS
  • Local news photographer at age 15
  • Turned down scholarship to Notre Dame to study
    photography at NY Institute of Photography
  • Worked for Newsweek, then Life, then Magnum

37
W Eugene Smith
  • Married to Aileen Smith, photojournalist
  • Minimata Final Assignment
  • Beaten by Chisso employees
  • Died 1978

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Role of the Media in Promoting Awareness of
Environmental Health Issues
  • Books
  • Henrik Ibsens Enemy of the People
  • Upton Sinclair's The Jungle
  • Rachel Carson's Silent Spring
  • Photography
  • W. Eugene and Aileen Smith's Minamata photoessay
  • Jacob Riis, Dorothea Lange, Sebastiao Salgado,
    James Nachtwey, others
  • Film, TV

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Contact Info, References
  • Martin Donohoe
  • martindonohoe_at_phsj.org
  • This slide show and others available at
  • http//www.publichealthandsocialjustice.org
  • http//www.phsj.org
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