The delayed appearance of a mercurial warning

Epidemiology. 2008 Jan;19(1):10-1. doi: 10.1097/EDE.0b013e31815c481a.


The publication of a 1971 study from Japan on chronic methylmercury poisoning in adults provides an occasion to reexamine the history of Minamata disease and its social and political repercussions. Research findings were suppressed or held back due to controversies that were tearing the Japanese scientific community apart. Similar controversies occurred outside of Japan as well. Only now are the long-term adverse effects of environmental methylmercury exposure becoming clear. The delayed release of the 1971 results therefore reminds us as epidemiologists of our obligation, even in the presence of scientific uncertainty, to call attention to preventable risks.

Publication types

  • Editorial
  • Historical Article
  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Cross-Sectional Studies
  • Disclosure / ethics*
  • Environmental Exposure / adverse effects*
  • Environmental Exposure / history
  • Epidemiology / ethics
  • Epidemiology / history
  • History, 21st Century
  • Humans
  • Japan / epidemiology
  • Mercury Poisoning, Nervous System / epidemiology*
  • Mercury Poisoning, Nervous System / etiology
  • Mercury Poisoning, Nervous System / history
  • Methylmercury Compounds / toxicity
  • Time Factors


  • Methylmercury Compounds