‘Minamata‘ starring Johnny Depp draws attention to mercury pollution

25.2.2020 - BERLIN
From left: E.L. Settimo (Zero Mercury), K.Brabcová (Arnika), A.M. Smith (E.Smith's widow), Y. Ismawati (Nexus3)
photo: Karolína Brabcová

On Friday, February 21, the movie ‘Minamata‘ starring Johnny Depp had a world premiere at the Berlinale film festival. The film, directed by Andrew Levitas, tells a story of American photographer Eugene Smith who documented the horrific health impact of industrial mercury pollution in the Japanese city of Minamata. The people of Minamata suffer the consequences to this day, especially children, many of whom have been born with physical and mental disabilities. 

Representatives of environmental organisations from the IPEN network (which Arnika is a member of) attended the premiere. Environmentalists are pointing out that the problem that the film is talking about hasn't been solved yet: “Although the film is set in Japan in the 1970s, mercury pollution is, unfortunately, an ever-present global problem. Mercury got into the organisms of Minamata's residents, and especially children, from the fish from the nearby lake, where the factory drained water polluted with mercury for many years. This is how mercury gets into our organism today as well - mainly from sea fish. The main source of mercury pollution is industrial activity, including chlorine manufacturing and electricity production in coal-fired power stations. This way, the toxic mercury gets into the ocean and through the food chain it accumulates in fish that end up at our dinner table,“ said Karolína Brabcová, Arnika's expert on toxic substances. 

The photographs by Eugene Smith and his wife Aileen Mioko Smith made the catastrophe known to the whole world. 

In just five years (from 2010 till 2015), the mercury pollution in the atmosphere increased by 20 per cent. In 2017, The Minamata Convention on Mercury came into effect. This treaty focuses on the life cycle of mercury, the measures considering the end of its mining, the reduction of mercury use, and emissions control. However, not even this treaty is truly a strong enough measure against mercury use. Strong lobby pressure from industry groups and mining groups allowed for a de facto exemption for the oil and gas industry, little control of coal-fired power plants, and the continuous use of mercury in small-scale gold mines. 

"The film is dedicated to mercury victims not only in Minamata, but to everyone who has been harmed by toxic accidents and long-term industrial pollution. Similarly to the people of Minamata, who still haven't received compensation for their suffering, hundreds of thousands of people suffer fatal lifelong consequences to this day. The film's sad message is the destroyed lives of Minamata's children, who are suffering from a severe mental disability. The creators are hoping their film will help the victims to get justice," added Karolína Brabcová.

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