When I was a kid, seventy years ago,my mother took my temperature by inserting a mercury thermometer up my rectum. Now if a tube of mercury breaks in a school they send in a haz med team to clean it up. But seventy years ago if it broke in my rectum a wipe was all that was used to clean up the mess. Imagine mercury going up your anus
Was it a possibility?
On April 21, 1956, a five-year-old girl was examined at the Chisso Corporation‘s factory hospital in Minamata, Kumamoto, a town on the west coast of the southern island of Kyūshū. The physicians were puzzled by her symptoms: difficulty walking, difficulty speaking, and convulsions. Two days later, her younger sister also began to exhibit the same symptoms and she, too, was hospitalised. The girls’ mother informed doctors that her neighbour’s daughter was also experiencing similar problems. After a house-to-house investigation, eight further patients were discovered and hospitalised. On May 1, the hospital director reported to the local public health office the discovery of an “epidemic of an unknown disease of the central nervous system“, marking the official discovery of Minamata disease.
To investigate the epidemic, the city government and various medical practitioners formed the Strange Disease Countermeasures Committee (奇病対策委員会 Kibyō Taisaku Iinkai?) at the end of May 1956. Owing to the localised nature of the disease, it was suspected to be contagious and as a precaution patients were isolated and their homes disinfected. Although contagion was later disproved, this initial response contributed to the stigmatisation and discrimination experienced by Minamata victims from the local community. During its investigations, the committee uncovered surprising anecdotal evidence of the strange behaviour of cats and other wildlife in the areas surrounding patients’ homes. From around 1950 onward, cats had been seen to have convulsions, go mad, and die. Locals called it the “cat dancing disease” (猫踊り病 neko odori byō?), owing to their erratic movement. Crows had fallen from the sky, seaweed no longer grew on the sea bed, and fish floated dead on the surface of the sea. As the extent of the outbreak was understood, the committee invited researchers from Kumamoto University to help in the research effort.
The Kumamoto University Research Group was formed on August 24, 1956. Researchers from the School of Medicine began visiting Minamata regularly and admitted patients to the university hospital for detailed examinations. A more complete picture of the symptoms exhibited by patients was gradually uncovered. The disease developed without any prior warning, with patients complaining of a loss of sensation and numbness in their hands and feet. They became unable to grasp small objects or fasten buttons. They could not run or walk without stumbling, their voices changed in pitch, and many patients complained of difficulties seeing, hearing, and swallowing. In general, these symptoms deteriorated and were followed been discovered, 14 of whom had died, an alarming mortality rate of 35%.
We tend to find out that what we assume is safe is in reality a hidden danger.
Madame Curie is a prime example of not understanding the dangers until it was to late.
Curie visited Poland for the last time in early 1934. A few months later, on 4 July 1934, she died at the Sancellemoz Sanatorium in Passy, in Haute-Savoie, from aplastic anemia believed to have been contracted from her long-term exposure to radiation. The damaging effects of ionising radiation were not known at the time of her work, which had been carried out without the safety measures later developed. She had carried test tubes containing radioactive isotopes in her pocket, and she stored them in her desk drawer, remarking on the faint light that the substances gave off in the dark. Curie was also exposed to X-rays from unshielded equipment while serving as a radiologist in field hospitals during the war. Although her many decades of exposure to radiation caused chronic illnesses (including near blindness due to cataracts) and ultimately her death, she never really acknowledged the health risks of radiation exposure.