Epidemiological Update of Methylmercury and Minamata Disease

Part of the Current Topics in Neurotoxicity book series (Current Topics Neurotoxicity, volume 2)


The first epidemic of Minamata disease was observed in Minamata and surrounding areas mainly from the mid-1950s to the mid-1970s, and the second one in the Agano River basin mainly in the 1960s. There are some difficulties in conducting epidemiological study on the health effects of methylmercury among residents of the previously contaminated site. The evaluation of the past exposure level is difficult for methylmercury that has a relatively short biological half-life of 50–70 days in the human body. The limited data on hair mercury concentration obtained in the early 1960s, difference assumed in the exposure level among subpopulations and areas of residence, or methylmercury concentrations of preserved umbilical cord have been used in studies on the health effects of the past exposure. Subjective complaints are important to be considered as possible outcomes on the effects of chronic exposure to methylmercury. However, diagnostic or selection bias should not be underestimated, especially given the possibility of linkage with the compensation of patients. Despite these limitations, epidemiological studies have clarified associations between methylmercury exposure and a variety of health impairments including nonspecific clinical manifestations.


Mercury Concentration Subjective Complaint High Exposure Level Hair Mercury Fishing Village 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.


  1. Akagi H, Grandjean P, Takizawa Y, Weihe P. Methylmercury dose estimation from umbilical cord concentrations in patients with Minamata disease. Environ Res. 1998;77:98–103.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Eto K. Minamata disease. Neuropathology. 2000;20(Suppl s1):14–9.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Fujino T. Clinical and epidemiological studies on chronic Minamata disease, part I: study on Katsurajima Island. Kumamoto Med J. 1994;44:139–55.Google Scholar
  4. Fukuda Y, Ushijima K, Kitano T, et al. An analysis of subjective complaints in a population living in a methylmercury-polluted area. Environ Res. 1999;81:100–7.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Futatsuka M. Effects of methylmercury exposure on junior high school children bone in 1955–58 near Minamat bay. Environ Sci. 2001;8:521–31.Google Scholar
  6. Futatsuka M, Nomura S. Studies on epidemiological analysis on clinical signs appearing in areas contaminated with methyl mercury (text in Japanese). Kumamoto Igakkai Zasshi. 1978;52:76–94.Google Scholar
  7. Futatsuka M, Matsushita T, Arimatsu Y, et al. Survey on physical functions of school children in mercury-contaminated districts (text in Japanese). Jpn J Public Health. 1973;20:299–314.Google Scholar
  8. Grandjean P, Satoh H, Murata K, Eto K. Adverse effects of methylmercury: environmental health research implications. Environ Health Perspect. 2010;118:1137–45.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Hachiya N. The history and the present of Minamata disease—entering the second half a century. Jpn Med Assoc J. 2006;49:112–8.Google Scholar
  10. Harada M. Congenital Minamata disease: intrauterine methylmercury poisoning. Teratology. 1978;18:285–8.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Harada M. Minamata disease: methylmercury poisoning in Japan caused by environmental pollution. Crit Rev Toxicol. 1995;25:1–24.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Harada M, Nakanishi J, Konuma S, et al. The present mercury contents of scalp hair and clinical symptoms in inhabitants of the Minamata area. Environ Res. 1998;77:160–4.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Harada M, Akagi TT, et al. Methylmercury level in umbilical cords from patients with congenital Minamata disease. Sci Total Environ. 1999;234:59–62.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Hunter D, Russell D. Focal cerebral and cerebellar atrophy in a human subject due to organic mercury compounds. J Neurol Neurosurg Phychiatry. 1954;17:235–41.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Igata A. Epidemiological and clinical features of Minamata disease. Environ Res. 1993;63:157–69.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Irukayama K. Case history of Minamata. In: Tsubaki T, Irukayama K, editors. Minamata disease. Tokyo: Kodansha-Elsevier; 1977.Google Scholar
  17. Itai Y, Fujino T, Ueno K, Motomatsu Y. An epidemiological study of the incidence of abnormal pregnancy in areas heavily contaminated with methylmercury. Environ Sci. 2004;11:83–97.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  18. Kinjo Y, Akiba S, Yamaguchi N, et al. Cancer mortality in Minamata disease patients exposed to methylmercury through fish diet. J Epidemiol. 1996;6:134–8.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. Kitamura S, Miyata C, Tomita M, et al. Epidemiological investigation of the unknown central nervous disorder in the Minamata district (in Japanese). Kumamoto Igakkai Zasshi. 1957;31 Suppl 1:1–9.Google Scholar
  20. Kitamura S, Ueda K, Niino J, et al. Chemical examination on the cause of Minamata disease V (in Japanese). Kumamoto Igakkai Zasshi. 1960;34 Suppl 3:593–601.Google Scholar
  21. Kondo K. Incidence of Minamata disease in communities along the Agano River, Niigata, Japan, Patterns of the exposure and official diagnosis of patients (text in Japanese). Jpn J Hyg. 1996;51:599–611.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. Kumamoto Prefecture (1998) Environmental restoration of Minamata Bay. In An outline of the environmental restoration of Minamata Bay, Kumamoto Prefecture, Kumamoto.Google Scholar
  23. Kurland LT, Faro SN, Siedler H. Minamata disease. The outbreak of a neurologic disorder in Minamata, Japan, and its relationship to the ingestion of seafood contaminated by mercuric compounds. World Neurol. 1960;1:370–95.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  24. Matsushima Y. Survey on mercury concentration in hair for Minamata disease (in Japanese). Ann Kumamoto Pref Inst Health Res. 1970;1970:13–45.Google Scholar
  25. Moriyama H, Futatsuka M, Kinjo Y. Fetal Minamata disease. Environ Sci. 1994;3:15–23.Google Scholar
  26. Nakagawa M, Kodama T, Akiba S, et al. Logistic model analysis of neurological findings in Mnamata disease and the predicting index. Intern Med. 2002;41:14–9.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. Nishimura H, Okamoto T. Science of Minamata disease (Japanese). Tokyo: Nippon Hyoronsha; 2001.Google Scholar
  28. Oka T, Matsukura M, Okamoto M, et al. Autonomic nervous functions in fetal type Minamata disease patients: assessment of heart rate variability. Tohoku J Exp Med. 2003;198:215–21.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. Rice DC. Evidence for delayed neurotoxicity produced by methylmercury. Neurotoxicology. 1996;17:583–96.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  30. Sakamoto M, Nakano A, Akagi H. Declining Minamata male birth ratio associated with increased male fetal death due to heavy methylmercury pollution. Environ Res. 2001;87:92–8.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  31. Sakamoto M, Murata K, Tsuruta K, et al. Retrospective study on temporal and regional variations of methylmercury concentrations in preserved umbilical cords collected from inhabitants of the Minamata area. Ecotoxicol Environ Saf. 2010;73:1144–9.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  32. Sakata A, Orita T, Koriyama M, et al. Hair mercury survey on inhabitants in Izumi [Japanese]. Ann Kagoshima Prefect Inst Public Health. 1962;2:53–6.Google Scholar
  33. Social Scientific Study Group on Minamata Disease. In the hope of avoiding repetition of tragedy of Minamata disease, National Institute for Minamata disease. 2001. Accessed 19 March 2011.
  34. Stern AH. A review of the studies of the cardiovascular health effects of methylmercury with consideration of their suitability for risk assessment. Environ Res. 2005;98:133–42.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  35. Takizawa Y. Epidemioogy of mercury poisoning. In: Nriagu JO, editor. The biogeochemistry of mercury in the environment. New York: Elsevier; 1979.Google Scholar
  36. Tamashiro H, Arakaki M, Futatsuka M, Lee ES. Methylmercury exposure and mortality in southern Japan: a close look at causes of death. J Epidemiol Community Health. 1986;40:181–5.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  37. Tsubaki T, Shirakawa K, Hirota K, Kondo K. Epidemiology of methylmercury poisoning in Niigata. In: Tsubaki T, Irukayama K, editors. Minamata disease. Tokyo: Kodansha-Elsevier; 1977.Google Scholar
  38. Tsuda T, Mino Y, Yamamoto E, et al. Causal inference in medicine: a reaction to the report, “incidence of Minamata disease in communities along the Agano River, Niigata, Japan, Patterns of the exposure and official diagnosis of patients” (text in Japanese). Jpn J Hyg. 1997;52:511–29.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  39. Uchino M, Tanaka Y, Ando Y, et al. Neurologic features of chronic Minamata disease (organic mercury poisoning) and incidence of complications with aging. J Environ Sci Health. 1995;B30:699–715.Google Scholar
  40. Weiss B, Clarkson TW, Simom W. Silent latency periods in methylmercury poisoning and in neurodegenerative disease. Environ Health Perspect. 2002;110 Suppl 5:851–4.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  41. Yasutake A, Matsumoto M, Yamaguchi M, Hachiya N. Current hair mercury levels in Japanese for estimation of methylmercury exposure. J Health Sci. 2004;50:120–5.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  42. Yorifuji T, Tsuda T, Kawakami N. Age standardized cancer mortality ratios in areas heavily exposed to methyl mercury. Int Arch Occup Environ Health. 2007;80:679–88.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  43. Yorifuji T, Tsuda T, Inoue S, et al (2011) Long-term exposure to methylmercury and psychiatric symptoms in residents of Minamata, Japan. Environ Int, 37:907–913.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  44. Yorifuji T, Tsuda T, Takao S, et al. Total mercury content in hair and neurologic signs: historic data from Minamata. Epidemiology. 2009a;20:188–93.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  45. Yorifuji T, Kashima S, Tsuda T, Harada M. What has methylmercury in umbilical cords told us?—Minamata disease. Sci Total Environ. 2009b;408:272–6.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  46. Yorifuji T, Tsuda T, Kashima S, et al. Long-term exposure to methylmercury and its effects on hypertension in Minamata. Environ Res. 2010;110:40–6.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC  2012

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of EpidemiologyNational Institute for Minamata DiseaseMinamataJapan

Personalised recommendations