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Narek Aleksanyan

Physicians Raise Mercury Pollution Alarm in Armenia

At a Yerevan press conference today, specialists from the “Armenian Women for Health and a Healthy Environment” raised the alarm about mercury pollution in Armenia and the need to take immediate steps to avert possible future health calamities associated with heavy metals.

Physicians Knarik Grigoryan and Emma Anakhasyan expressed the hope that Armenia would sign the Minamata Convention on Mercury come this October.

The Minamata Convention on Mercury is a legally binding instrument to protect the human health and the environment from anthropogenic emissions and releases of mercury and mercury compounds.

The speakers refereed to what is called “Minamata Disease”, a neurological syndrome caused by severe mercury poisoning.

Minamata disease was first discovered in Minamata city, Japan, in 1956. It was caused by the release of methyl mercury in the industrial wastewater from the Chisso Corporation's chemical factory, which continued from 1932 to 1968. This highly toxic chemical bio-accumulated in shellfish and fish in Minamata Bay and the Shiranui Sea, which, when eaten by the local populace, resulted in mercury poisoning.

While cat, dog, pig, and human deaths continued for 36 years, the government and company did little to prevent the pollution. The animal effects were severe enough in cats that they came to be called "dancing cat fever.

As of March 2001, 2,265 victims had been officially recognized (1,784 of who had died) and over 10,000 had received financial compensation from Chisso.