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How the Minamata Convention is aiming to end mercury’s millennia-long toxic run

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It is October 2013, and Rimiko Yoshinaga is standing behind a podium in Minamata, Japan, gazing at an auditorium packed with world leaders.

Silence descends upon the room as she begins recounting how a mysterious illness had killed her father decades earlier.  

Yoshinaga would learn her father was one of thousands of Minamata-area residents poisoned in the 1950s and 1960s by industrial runoff laced with mercury, a neurotoxin.

The leaders listening to her on that sunny day in 2013 were hoping to save others from the same fate. They were in Japan to adopt the Minamata Convention on Mercury, an ambitious global accord to rein in the use of a chemical that had plagued humanity for centuries.

“We went there and could hear the voices of the victims. It was absolutely emotional,” Fernando Lugris, a diplomat who chaired negotiations on the convention, recalled recently. “We hoped that this convention would help many other communities around the world to prevent what happened in Minamata.”


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