Japan’s Ominous Dancing Cats and the Disaster That Followed


[♪ INTRO] If you were looking for the perfect place
to live in the 1950s, you couldn’t do much better than Minamata in southern Japan. It’s surrounded by mountains, right next
to the ocean, and there are hot springs just up the road. It was basically a paradise. Plus, if you were looking for work, and fishing
wasn’t your thing, there was a giant chemical manufacturing plant: the Chisso Corporation. So you had employment, idyllic scenery, and
endless amounts of seafood. Minamata was perfect. Except for the cats. One day, locals started noticing the cats
were acting weird. And it turns out, in the least shocking plot
twist ever, that the chemical manufacturing
company was responsible. About 30 years earlier, the Chisso Corporation
had started making a chemical called acetaldehyde, a super important precursor to things like
acetic acid and some plastics. The most efficient way of making acetaldehyde
at the time used a particular catalyst, a thing to kick start the reactions. And unfortunately for the unsuspecting residents
of Minamata, the Chisso Corporation decided to use mercury and then dump the leftovers
from the reaction into the bay. We’ve known for a long time that mercury
is one of the nastier elements on the periodic table, which is why we don’t use it so much
anymore, although you can still find it in old thermometers or batteries. Eating plain mercury doesn’t actually cause
too many problems. Like, it’s not great, so don’t just do it, but your gut doesn’t absorb too much of the metal. The Chisso Corporation wasn’t dumping elemental
mercury, though. It wasn’t pure, metallic mercury. Heavy metals, which are elements that are
mostly in the middle section of the periodic table, can lose electrons to form positively-charged
ions. When mercury does this, it forms what chemists
call inorganic mercury. And it’s the ions with a positive charge
of 1 or 2 that really cause problems. Hat makers in the 1800s, for example,
used a compound called mercuric nitrate to make felt for their hats. Workers would spend hours
every day inhaling mercury fumes and the effects were not super awesome. Most would have severe personality changes,
hallucinations, and uncontrollable shaking. In fact, that is where the Mad Hatter in Alice
in Wonderland came from. And the Chisso Corporation
in Minamata was dumping similarly toxic kinds of mercury into the water. But the cats weren’t just inhaling fumes. It was worse than that.
So much worse than that. And all because of a bunch of anaerobic bacteria
living in the Minamata bay. Instead of using oxygen as their main source
of energy, anaerobic bacteria use sulphur. And they’re not too picky about the quality
of the water they’re living in or the ions that might be floating around in it. When the bacteria came into contact with the
extra inorganic mercury at Minamata, they transformed it into the most poisonous form
of the metal: methylmercury, which is a carbon attached to a mercury
with a single positive charge. Inorganic and organic compounds don’t tend
to want to mix; they’re sort of like oil and water. So when the original mercury ions were floating
around all by themselves, the plants on the floor of the bay
basically ignored them. But the methylmercury produced
by the bacteria was bioavailable, meaning that the plants were able to absorb it. And methylmercury is especially poisonous
for humans and other animals because unlike elemental mercury, it is almost entirely absorbed
in the gut. Here’s where it gets bad. Once methylmercury is in, it doesn’t leave. And these mercury-laced plants were being
eaten by fish. The more the fish ate, the more methylmercury
they accumulated in their cells. So the larger they grew, the more deadly they
became. And, of course, the biggest source of food
for the cats of Minamata was fish. In the early 1950s, locals started seeing
what looked like the cats dancing, which sounds kind of funny but was actually horrible. They would jerk around uncontrollably, making
terrifying noises. And then they would die. Around 1956, the human residents of Minamata
started experiencing the same symptoms. They started flooding hospitals with numbness
in their hands and feet, high fever, uncontrollable flailing,
and loss of sight and hearing. A lot of them ended up losing consciousness
and dying. Doctors and researchers launched an investigation
into what they started calling Minamata Disease, and by 1959, they had found the cause: methylmercury
poisoning from fish. But they couldn’t figure out why it was
causing severe birth defects. There’s a membrane called the placental
barrier that’s supposed to stop really terrible things like mercury from getting through to
the fetus. We now know that methylmercury gets through
by disguising itself as a super important component of proteins — the essential amino
acid methionine. When it gets inside the body, methylmercury
binds to a different amino acid, called cysteine. And to your cells, the cysteine-methylmercury
combo looks pretty much exactly like methionine. The thing about methionine is that it’s
really easily absorbed across the almost-impenetrable placental barrier, as well as the similar
barrier that’s supposed to protect the brain. By 1962, researchers had proved that the chemical
processes used by the Chisso factory could cause the methylmercury poisoning. But it wasn’t until 1968, 12 years after
the first victims died, that the Chisso Corporation stopped dumping the factory’s wastewater
into the bay. The government started
cleaning up the bay in 1977, and by 1997 the water was considered safe. But it’ll be a long time before people
start thinking of Minamata as a perfect paradise again. Thanks for watching this episode of SciShow. For more on some of the worst
environmental disasters ever, you can check out our video on seven of
the most toxic sites in the US. [♪ OUTRO]

100 thoughts on “Japan’s Ominous Dancing Cats and the Disaster That Followed”

  1. Yes! Love your new look!! Also love your informative, intelligent manor. Show your vids to my science class all the time!!

  2. The current Empress of Japan is related to Chisso. Her grandfather, yutaka egashira insults the victim for being "poor" and blame the disease on "rotten" fish the victim's ate.
    The minamata case is abandoned to not hurt imperial family's honour.
    Chisso also hired yakuza to beat up Eugene Smith.

  3. I can remember when that was first exposed and there was a magazine article showing how 'loving' and 'devoted' the Japanese were to their poor deformed children. Well, turns out that was nothing but a photo op, they didn't give a crap about the deformed children, but just hauled them out and got sanctimonious looks on their faces for the photographer.

  4. Hank… I love everything you do… except pronounce Japanese words. It's CHEE-SSO. Thanks for coming to my Ted Talk

  5. No Autism there yet a million times higher dosage blood levels than what any ever vaccination had….
    Tell this to anti vaccination quacks.
    Insane to claim vaccination is dangerous or cause autism..

  6. Chisso Corp were idiots… even that long ago they should have known better than to eliminate the waste that way.

  7. Useless to ask why the gov allowed the chemical factory to dump anything into the bay. how would that work? corruption? but can people really be such devils as to pay corrupt individuals to allow them to destroy what they destroyed? would have liked to hear as to the outcome of this legal wise for that corporation. and whether they are still operating.

  8. Cat dancing hahahahahahahaahhahahahaahhahahaahahhahahahahah1ahahahahahahahahahahahahahahaha4hahahahahahah8hahahahahahahah1hahahahahahaha7hahahahahahahahaha Tlee em eht rebmun

  9. Cat dancing hahahahahahahaahhahahahaahhahahaahahhahahahahah1ahahahahahahahahahahahahahahaha4hahahahahahah8hahahahahahahah1hahahahahahaha7hahahahahahahahaha Tlee em eht rebmun
    Find the clue

  10. Sigh… Well, now I'm totally depressed about whether humans even have the right to continue living on this planet…. I guess destroying the planet will karmically work that out.

  11. https://www.reddit.com/r/cursedimages/comments/9no005/cursed_dance/ This is the image I thought of when reading the title

  12. This what happenes when a corporation is deregulated! Of course, if some had their way, the funding for the US EPA would also be cut!

  13. I hear stories like this from the folks I know who have moved away from areas with lots of fracking ☹️ not exactly, like not the same symptoms, but bad.

  14. All mercury is poisonous. Metallic mercury is soon reacting with fluids in the stomach.

    Teeth fillings have killing millions in a slow and painful death. None was investigated.
    Nice health care .

  15. oh yeah I remember when this happened ….. trying to rebuild after the devastation of WW-2
    had the Japanese cutting corners….their more safety conscious today…..but then again they have FUKUSHIMA !!!

  16. When you opened with the claim that living next to a chemical factory next to a bay was perfect, I immediately was suspicious. Because of dumping.

  17. The president of that company should have been put to death the company should have been liquidated and every sick human being should have been paid out nothing going to the government who allowed it to happen

  18. But remember folks, the EPA is nothing more than a useless, job-killing menace that needs to be dismantled for the good of corporations… er I mean The People of this great country!

  19. Sounds like severe autism cases. Ethylmercury is in the shots in "trace amounts" and therefore not required to be on the label of ingredients … and is used as a preservative to stop bacteria growth in the shot before injection …. but your saying anaerobic bacteria not only survives, but transforms the ethylmercury into methylmercury which does not leave the body ? And not only that but is synergistically neuro toxic with aluminum. Look at what mercury and aluminum do to snail neurons on YouTube. That's what we inject into children.

  20. Does Methylmercury really disguise itself or is it just not recognised by the barrier? Sounds like it is doing it intenionally.

  21. There was a company called Monsanto that produced a poisonous weed killer called glyphosate that was found in practically every food product available at grocery stores across the USA. That company got bought out by another company called Bayer and even though the harmful poison is still found in our food supply today, it seems as though the story was swept under the rug and therefore nobody is doing anything to protect the citizens of the United States from the poison. ☠️

  22. When I want a lecture,it will be a proffesor.Otherwise, I have to read it, for better comprehencion.not enough images.Cats??? where were they???as well, didn't show them……

  23. FYI, Chisso Company still exists today. They tweaked the name a little, but it more or less still is the same. Also, back in the day, the victim's families gathered together to rally at a political event to protest and have a law passed to get Chisso to take responsibility, but mysteriously freaking YAKUZA appeared to block entry into the hall. You heard that right. Chisso hired yakuza to keep the families from even getting heard and continued to further delay their problems. Chisso also developed a 'water purifier' that they drank from to prove that the water was safe, but it was found that their water purifier did nothing to filter methylmercury from the water, and the water they drank from at the event wasn't from the local waters anyway. A foreign man also documentated the horrors of the mercury poisoning, and raised awareness of the poisoning in Minamata. For that, he was ambushed, and lynched by a gang of yakuza that 'mysteriously appeared' out of nowhere.

  24. Recently and still in use, Compact fluorescents, Hg, Laptop screen backlight, Hg, same for computer lcd backlight, Hg. Long after mercury photographic batteries were banned because of the mercury content.

  25. You mean that companies in other companies poison their citizenry and then ,core it up,deny ,obfuscate until forced to do the right thing? Not just U.S. companies? Wow! Who woulda guessed?

  26. Yes we humans dump our crap in everywhere & just expect it to vanish in thin air. And we are Actually Surprised when nature doesn't oblige us. Smart, we are! Self diagnosed smartest species on planet.

  27. Oops. It seems that Hank has never taken a biochemistry class. If he had, he wouldn't have pronounced "cysteine" as one pronounces "cystine" (which is the oxidized form of cysteine).

  28. I worked at a Japanese firm in the '90s, and the president (without warning) asked me to come into his office and speak to a customer from Minamata. He asked me what I knew about Minamata, and after a pregnant pause, I said that I'd heard of the neurological syndrome which was named for the place (didn't really know what else to say). His face grew dark, and he got up and left; we lost that account. I was in the doghouse for months after that…

  29. This methylmercury stuff is so nasty that a drop touching your skin could kill, terrifying stuff. There's this video showing when people learnt how dangerous this is:
    https://youtu.be/NJ7M01jV058

  30. See crap like this makes it ok for me to change clothes in Walmart. I could have stood there for 12 naked years before I had to get dressed. ☑️

  31. Canada – In 1962, the Dryden group began dumping mercury into the river system on First Nation reserves reproducing Minamata disease. The effects are still felt today.

  32. Why are any corporations allowed to dump into any water way? They should only store the waste on site and the heads of the companies must live on the sites for a decade to prove it is safe.

  33. I recall hearing about "Minamata Disease" when W. Eugene Smith's photographs began to circulate. For years, photographers had wondered how to illustrate the effects of air/water pollution on people. W. Eugene Smith's Minamata photographs did just that, so Chisso company goons attacked him.
    https://www.magnumphotos.com/newsroom/health/w-eugene-smith-minamata-warning-to-the-world/
    As for the "epilepsy attacks" and "dancing cats": https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ihFkyPv1jtU

  34. Hey brother thank you for putting this info out be careful you could get in some trouble. Isn't it interesting how jacked up we are over climate change while s*** like this is going on under our noses

  35. So the government cleaned it up. Aka The People Cleaned It Up. Tell us what towering price the business had to pay in these videos. Because businesses rarely pay and the bosses just retire to a rich riviera.

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