What is Minamata disease?

Updated: Nov 05, 2018
  • Author: David A Olson, MD; Chief Editor: Tarakad S Ramachandran, MBBS, MBA, MPH, FAAN, FACP, FAHA, FRCP, FRCPC, FRS, LRCP, MRCP, MRCS  more...
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Answer

In 1961, researchers in Japan correlated elevated urinary mercury levels with the features of the previously mysterious Minamata disease. Before the etiology of Minamata disease was discovered, it plagued the residents around Minamata Bay in Japan with tremors, sensory loss, ataxia, and visual field constriction. (See Presentation.) [3]

Minamata disease is an example of organic toxicity. In Minamata Bay, a factory discharged inorganic mercury into the water. The mercury was methylated by bacteria and subsequently ingested by fish. Local villagers ate the fish and began to exhibit signs of neurologic damage, such as visual loss, extremity numbness, hearing loss, and ataxia. Babies exposed to the methylmercury in utero were the most severely affected. Furthermore, because mercury was also discovered in the breast milk of the mothers, the babies' exposure continued after birth. [4]

On January 19, 2013, The Minamata Convention on Mercury was agreed upon at the fifth session of the Intergovernmental Negotiating Committee in Geneva, Switzerland. It is a global treaty to protect human health and the environment from the adverse effects of mercury. The major highlights of the convention included a ban on new mercury mines, the phase-out of existing ones, control measures on air emissions, and the international regulation of the informal sector for artisanal and small-scale gold mining. [4]


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