Japan’s Ominous Dancing Cats and the Disaster That Followed

Japan’s Ominous Dancing Cats and the Disaster That Followed

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[♪ 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

  • John Milonas Post author

    Really good.

  • GetMeThere1 Post author

    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).

  • marcoravenna Post author

    This disaster helped us better understand how mercury poisoning works though

  • chokkan7 Post author

    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…

  • Joe Blazer Post author

    Yay!

    I love dead cats.

  • Dave Johnson Post author

    Unintended consequences and the remains of feudalism. Perfect storm in the making right there!

  • MJ Z Post author

    I wanted to see the dancing cats!

  • Pedro Boh Post author

    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

  • Robert matheny Post author

    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. ☑️

  • Shrinivas Sudhir Post author

    What happened to the chisso corporation?

  • Shrinivas Sudhir Post author

    What happened to the chisso corporation?

  • Alex Duffy Post author

    They groovin

  • Colin T Post author

    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.

  • BubbaSteve Garcia Post author

    Bro. I never knew about the mad hatter origin

  • Nonamearisto Post author

    No CATalyst joke?

  • GW2 MacKen Post author

    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.

  • Anthony Vos Post author

    1997?! Holy crap…

  • Otokichi786 Post author

    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

  • woodchuk1 Post author

    The band Bush made a song about this on their third album The Science of Things…The Disease of The Dancing Cats.

  • Marc Siemer Post author

    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

  • Victor Moreno Post author

    Gangnam style.. kittie style.

  • Heterandria4mosa Post author

    aNd tHatS wHy tHe mAd hAtTer! DiD yOu kNoW tHat?!?!1

  • nobody important Post author

    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.

  • Taelend Sauve Post author

    I feel like this is what the plot of final fantasy 7 is based off of

  • keir farnum Post author

    The cat in the coal mine!

  • Gareth Hutchinson Post author

    There are no dancing cats, just a nerd

  • A Dominguez Post author

    I'll start paying attention to climate change when those radicals get the rest of the world, those also responsible, on board!!!

  • ICEMAN3rdID Post author

    I don’t like you

  • Ogr81 OfPoCo Post author

    Etch-a-sketch used to use mercury in their toys but had to stop because they say it effected the brain. To this day, if I twist my left ear I see a vertical line and if I twist my right ear I see a horizontal line. And if I answer 'yes' or 'no' too emphatically my mind goes blank.

  • MsTaly99 Post author

    A chemical company responsible?! Hmmmm?! You don't say!

  • kreega K Post author

    This is why you dont eat fish from japan….and you wonder why Japanese people are so weak and pale

  • Repomeister Post author

    Videos of the dancing cats or it didn't happen.

  • Natalie 82 Post author

    I've read that beyond just inhaling the fumes, hat makers used their own saliva, licking the felt.

  • K. Day Post author

    Leave it to humans to destroy everything!

  • err0r0b0 Post author

    The Japanese are highly xenophobic and racist, so unless you are a foreign born Japanese, you are an unwelcomed guest in the country.

  • labibbidabibbadum Post author

    Well, that was cheery.

  • Raccoon Post author

    VIDEO DOES NOT SHOW DANCING CATS

  • Rick James Post author

    cats just like migrants carry diseases and contract them from filthy areas no one else would go near.

  • Andrew Manche Post author

    the shellfish of the bay accumulated even higher quantities, and they used to eat a lot of oysters

  • Andrew Manche Post author

    and to think, mercury is STILL injected into newborn babies & children via vaccines which contain thimerosal which is 50% mercury

    corporations can be trusted!! NOT Big Pharma kills 2 million people every year, through the correct use of correctly prescribed medications

    why is govt doing NOTHING to ameliorate this?

  • JoeShit TheRagMan Post author

    METHylmercury. Not even once

  • HMan Post author

    Inorganic mercury causes problems, but organic mercury compounds are the devil incarnate. In 1997, Karen Wetterhahn, a professor of chemistry at Dartmouth College, a specialist in toxic heavy metal compounds, spilled two drops of dimethylmercury on her latex glove, it penetrated it like it was nothing, went through the second pair of gloves she had under, then into her skin, got absorbed into her bloodstream within minutes, it all migrated into her brain and she died a horrible death 10 months later. That's two drops with all necessary protective equipment in a lab setting.

  • FAHEY Post author

    Cool video, thanks. You focus on the Tech side, ok, but for the Human cost side people should also google "Minamata victims pictures". THEN you really understand what happened. Such as: https://blog.ucbmsh.org/wp-content/uploads/2018/12/Minamata-Disease-Pollute-Nature-and-It-Will-Pollute-Your-Future.png Much worse than you imagine and no, it´s not a Hollywood zombie picture.

  • 06hatter Post author

    all corporations are evil

  • ERM AV Post author

    Host is unwatchable.

  • Vamsi Mohana Post author

    The cats were dancing
    Captain Sparklez: that's funny but they probably have some debilitating disease

  • Gadolini Rutherfordium Post author

    But how could the cats inhale the mercury if it was in the form of ions?

  • Michiko Manalang Post author

    Those poor kitties. Those poor people. 🙁

  • carlos eduardo Post author

    Came here to see a dancing cat, instead I watched a moron wearing a pink hat talking about methhyl mercury argh!

  • Anderson da Silva Post author

    What capitalism does to people: Undiscriminally kill them by poisoning, without any feelings

  • NortheastGamer Post author

    Hmm, so when someone tells you "don't drink the water" when you're traveling to certain parts of the world, is it really because some corporation dumped there 12 years ago?

  • Wabbit N Red Post author

    JUST THE THOUGHT OF THAT MAKES ME CRY!

  • Human Du Plessis Post author

    Why weren't the fish affected?

  • Dan Extrinsic01 Post author

    But according to the USA, we shouldnt put soo many regulations on corporations….

  • Alexis Harris Post author

    This title…

  • Ralph Cramden Post author

    No dancing cats. Just some dude talking. 😂

  • Phil Lycosidae Post author

    Chisso is still around. Jesus Christ. We have a corporation directly responsible for over 1700 deaths still functioning like nothing happened.

  • Breanne Bencharski Post author

    Similar thing happened to the English River in Northwestern Ontario when the Dryden Mill dumped effluent, containing mercury, into the river bed in the 60s and 70s. Despite knowing that the methylmercury has been causing damage to the community of Grassy Narrows since the 70s (researchers from Japan began studying the area in 70s) the Ontario government and Weyerhaeuser Co have brought their case to the Supreme Court of Canada to dispute who will pay for the clean up. It's been nearly 50 years and no one has accepted they have poisoned the waterway, plants, food and people upstream of the mill! It's absolutely disgusting. Why not shine a little light on the fact that these toxins are still a problem, despite Japan being involved for decades? Thanks!

  • Annette Zhang Post author

    CATalyst

  • Dark Rainbow Post author

    I’ll make some acetaldehyde. Give me some vodka and a human liver.

  • Roberto Post author

    Came to see dancing cats…got disappointed

  • Nice YouTube Commenting Post author

    That's kinda like Fukushima radiation, and Japanese government now. Lol.

  • Sharadel Murium Post author

    Really hope that the responsibles and all their families and friends were injected with methylmercury as a punishment 😉 K A R M A yeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee

  • Johnny, my penis is unbearably small, but Post author

    t h e y ' r e g r o o v i n g

  • Phoebe The Great Post author

    Bioaccumulation.

  • home dreams Post author

    CATalyst

  • Trey Hunt's SkyRed Media Post author

    Chemistry, ruining Japan and my high school GPA

  • Manuel Serratos Post author

    Keep voting for Republicans and America will soon be full of Minamatas.

  • Paul Rice Post author

    EFax sucks

  • TheGogeta222 Post author

    When you're German and that company's name just sound like shitting in your language xD

  • hizoka andou Post author

    They are still going. They used yakuza to attack the doctors and victims, what a shameful and disgusting corporation. A show of the worst of human beings, BASTARDS https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chisso

  • Miss Bookworm Post author

    What I don't get is why the people continued to work in that factory instead of strike and force the factory to stop polluting their food and water?

  • CJ Judd Post author

    yawn…

  • Colin12475 Post author

    Feed those CEO and higher up bastards in the shitsco company mercury tainted fish.

  • Chincer Dante Post author

    sure take humans long to humans to stop clearly horrible practices "oh mercury caused hatters to go crazy what could possible go wrong if we dumb a bunch of it at the bay near a growing population?" it is just surprising how we go from doing something to then develop a common sense that tell us something is a terrible idea without knowing exactly why, im sure most of us knew where this was going the second we heard "mercury" kinda like when we hear "asbesto"

  • Shannon Luster Post author

    Yikes. 12 years? I hope St Petersburg FL sees this

  • Sorzin Post author

    One of Japans four great diseases. Itai-Itai disease to me was the worst. The residents of Toyama Prefecture suffered easily broken bones due to their bodies absorbing cadmium instead of calcium. Spinal and bone damage. Simply walking or coughing would lead to broken bones. All of these diseases were manmade caused by companies who didn't have to follow regulations, because there wasn't a regulatory agency like the EPA to enforce them.

  • Brenton Taylor Post author

    Minamata Disease: exists

    Cats: THEY'RE GROOVIN'

  • cobrellie Post author

    I thought you were going to show videos of the cats … waste of time

  • Lisa Medlin Post author

    Very informative. This does and will apply to today and future events of problems here on this planet.

  • udderlydumb Post author

    already knew about this but…
    horrible situation. fuckin hilarious title

  • mad ass Post author

    Thought the consumption of dolphin had something to do with this too.

  • Majora Post author

    once again, capitalism's toxic nature is demonstrated. proper disposal would cut into profits so dump it

  • Jcknight7996 Post author

    Why 12 years?!?

  • megadeathx Post author

    I see a sequel to Zombieland Saga set in Zombieland Minamata.

  • Riko Saikawa Post author

    but is there anime

  • Riko Saikawa Post author

    a cat-alyst

  • John Callahan Post author

    The Chisso Company bosses should have been publicly hanged for crimes of inhumanity

  • Wesley223332 Post author

    Cats "Starts breakdancing"
    People Dies

  • Stephanie Logan Post author

    "Cats acting weird.." is what the internet was invented for, was it not?
    I'd pay soooo much in catnip to get our cats get-down-boogey-oogey-oogey. Marmalade just will not and Odin just says "birds! i'll be outside!"
    Me:😐😑😐 un-freakin-believable, these two.
    Kinda happy that the world didn't end up with SpiderCat.

  • Yossi Weinstein Post author

    14:16 methionine is NOT essential, it is harmful. It contributes to the production of homocysteine, which causes dementia. It is suspected to sustain many kinds of cancer cells and cancer-causing bacteria. https://nutritionfacts.org/?s=methionine.

  • dAspie David Post author

    Dancing cats and crazy hats.
    A planet's name,
    We went insane.

  • Anne Frank Post author

    Let the cats dance

  • Matt Hunter Post author

    Methylmercury…. the most toxic form??? Don't you mean Dimethyl Mercury!

  • Sandra Streifel Post author

    In Canada, hydroelectricity from huge dams is a big part of our energy, and organic Mercury contamination is an inevitable result of the decomposition of vegetation in the flooded lakes, behind the dams. Fish and other wildlife concentrate it in their flesh, and it’s in the water supply from these lakes. Poisoning, especially of Indigenous peoples, as in Minimata, results from hydropower projects, like Muskrat Falls in NLD, or Site C here in BC.

  • shawn foogle Post author

    ya soooo. seafood sucks. facts.

  • Joshua Jarvis Post author

    The factory owners and investors should be made to eat the contaminated fish as punishment.

  • Al Maari's Disciple Post author

    Damn Japan you scary…

  • Lady Silverwynde Post author

    Me: watching video.
    "It was basically paradise."
    Me: Sounds lovely. There's gotta be a catch.
    "There was a giant chemical manufacturing plant…"
    Me: And here's where it all goes to H-E-double hockey sticks.

  • Kelly Slomian Post author

    …. jellicle songs for jellicle cats

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