|Industrial Pollution in Japan (UNU, 1992, 187 pages)|
|Chapter - 4 Minamata disease|
As a result of Japan's defeat at the end of the Second World War, Nippon Chisso lost all of its overseas assets - a total of 80 per cent of all assets held. The Chisso zaibatsu was ordered by the occupation forces to disband, and the Minamata complex had been destroyed by bombing during the war. However, out of this destruction the Minamata complex, which had a long-standing tradition of high technology combined with the samurai spirit, came back to life like the mythical phoenix. In the period of near starvation immediately after the war, food production was the highest priority, and for this the production of ammonium sulphate was needed as an agricultural chemical. In this situation the Chisso complex restarted production two months after the war ended. The workers went to villages with ammonium sulphate and salt to exchange for food. In this context also, the complex began again the production of acetaldehyde from acetylene. By employing the hydro-electric power-generation stations that had not been so heavily damaged during the war, the fertilizer and carbide electric hearth facilities recovered quickly. At the same time, one of the typical consumer products imported was polyvinyl chloride plastic. In the post-war period companies imported plastic-coated electric wire from the United States and reprocessed the coverings into nylon sheets and belts, which sold very well. The only installation in all Japan that could produce polyvinyl chloride was the Chisso Minamata complex, and in 1949, when the occupation army granted permission to reopen the facility, it once again marketed a monopoly product. The workers from the Chisso facilities in Japan's former colonies returned to Minamata and began energetic preparations for the rapid production revival that was to begin in the 1950s. In the confusing period after the war, the Minamata complex technicians worked very hard and, on the basis of their knowledge of acetylene-derived acetal-dehyde, in 1953 they successfully produced DOP, which is an essential plasticizer for the production of PVC.
The technical and commercial monopoly in relation to the expanding Japan PVC market was held through occupation army orders by American technology and capital, but the monopoly on the production of DOP for the Japanese market was fully retained by the Minamata complex. Within the context of the competitive 1950s, especially in relation to greatly expanding PVC markets, the Chisso Minamata complex was able to rebuild itself with phenomenal speed. For the production of octanol, the raw material from which DOP is made, the dual-carbon-atom acetaldehyde molecule was modified through a very sophisticated attachment of four more molecules. All of this was based on the long experience of acetylene chemistry maintained since before the war. Only the Minamata complex retained this high-level capacity for chemical synthesis, and because of this there were no other chemical companies able to recover so fully during that difficult period. It was in this way that the Minamata complex experienced a second golden era during the 1950s and regained a leading position in Japan's chemical industry. The Minamata complex, able to rebuild itself through the creativity of its personnel and the strength of its technology, stood in stark contrast to the old zaibatsu-supported chemical companies which, after the war, sought to revive their technological prowess through the purchase of foreign technology from the USA and other countries.
During the period when the Minamata complex was enjoying its greatest economic success, 60 per cent of all city taxes came from the chemical company and other related income sources. The mayor of the city was a retired director of the complex and a majority of the city council members were related in one way or another to the manufacturing facility. In the post-war period of so-called democratic politics, the city of Minamata was structured along typically feudalistic interactions and relationships centring around the chemical company and its manufacturing complex. Everyone knew that the level of economic prosperity enjoyed by the city depended on the rise and fall of the chemical company.
In the 1950s, the Minamata complex was able again to increase its capacity for the production of acetaldehyde and PVC and through this went on to sustain the largest production capacity in Japan. For production purposes, the company made use of large amounts of mercury compounds as reaction catalysts. The increased volume of production wastes was discharged into Minamata Bay without any treatment, and the aquatic environment was damaged even more than before the war, with devastating effects on the fishery industry there. The number of dead fish in the water increased and the number of fish caught was once again reduced. The local fishermen's association went to the chemical company for the third time to negotiate compensation. They managed to extract further amounts of money from the management, and exchanged certain areas of the bay with the company for use as reclaimed land, but all of these concessions were on condition that the association never again lodge protests with the company over company-induced pollution problems. At about this time people living in the city began noticing a strange new phenomenon, in which cats living in the city would go through a frenzied dance and ultimately throw themselves into the bay. The fishing community named this phenomenon "the suicide-prone group of dancing cats," and began to wonder if it did not portend misfortune in the future.