Rethinking the Minamata Tragedy: What Mercury Species was really Responsible?

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle


Industrial release of mercury into the local Minamata environment with consequent poisoning of local communities through contaminated fish and shellfish consumption is considered the classic case of environmental mercury poisoning. However, the mercury species in the factory effluent has proved controversial, originally suggested as inorganic, and more recently as methylmercury species. We used newly-available methods to re-examine the cerebellum of historic Cat 717, which was fed factory effluent mixed with food to confirm the source. Synchrotron high energy resolution fluorescence detection-X-ray absorption spectroscopy (HERFD-XAS) revealed sulfur-bound organometallic mercury with a minor β-HgS phase. Density functional theory (DFT) indicated energetic preference for α-mercuri-acetaldehyde as a waste product of aldehyde production. The consequences of this alternative species in the "classic" mercury poisoning should be re-evaluated.


  • Ashley K James
  • Susan Nehzati
  • Natalia V Dolgova
  • Dimosthenis Sokaras
  • Thomas Kroll
  • Koyomo Eto
  • John L O'Donoghue
  • Gene Watson
  • Gary J Myers
  • Patrick H Krone
  • Ingrid J Pickering
  • Graham N George
External organisations
  • University of Saskatchewan
Original languageEnglish
JournalEnvironmental Science & Technology
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 2020 Jan 17
Publication categoryResearch
Externally publishedYes

Related research output

Ashley K. James, Susan Nehzati, Natalia V. Dolgova, Dimosthenis Sokaras, Thomas Kroll, John L. O'Donoghue, Gene E. Watson, Gary J. Myers, Patrick H. Krone, Ingrid J. Pickering & Graham N. George, 2020 Jul 7, In : Environmental Science and Technology. 54, 13, p. 8484-8485 2 p.

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