Toroku mine, arsenic pollution, Miyazaki prefecture, Japan

In the mountain hamlet of Toroku, Miyazaki prefecture, there was arsenic pollution for many decades. After years of complaints and a court case, those plaintiffs who were still alive got a small compensation agreement in 1990.


Toroku is a small village in Miyazaki Prefecture in Kyushu Island. It is located in a valley of Furosobo Mountain, 1,600 meters above sea level. According to Bampen Chaiyarak (2009)  arsenopyrite production implied before WWII that workers hammered ores into small pieces and molded them with their bare hands before taking them to burn in a kiln. The kiln was designed to filter out arsenious acid. Kilns also produced smoke and ashes containing arsenic. Workers swept the ashes into the Toroku River which was also used  for rice irrigation. The arsenic-contaminated water entered the small irrigation canals in the local communities. Toroku villagers started to notice changes in the environment after arsenopyrite was produced and burned in kilns. Trees died, wild bees disappeared, mushrooms no longer grew, bamboo shoots turned red, and livestock died mysteriously. All these events caught the attention of a veterinarian in 1925. His investigation showed that environmental conditions had deteriorated. The Asia Arsenic Network (AAN 2006, 4) documented the case of Kiemon Sato’s family that lived only 100m from a kiln. All seven members suffered similar symptoms, including blackened skin and bad coughs. Five members died between 1930 and 1931. Another died in 1937, and yet another in 1951, all of them still rather young.

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Basic Data
NameToroku mine, arsenic pollution, Miyazaki prefecture, Japan
ProvinceMiyazaki prefecture
SiteToroku, Takachiho
Accuracy of LocationMEDIUM regional level
Source of Conflict
Type of Conflict (1st level)Mineral Ores and Building Materials Extraction
Type of Conflict (2nd level)Mineral processing
Specific CommoditiesArsenopyrite
Project Details and Actors
Project DetailsMining of arsenic over many decades. The Sumitomo Metal Mining Co bought the mining rights in the 1960s and was later deemed as liable for the pollution damage and had to pay compensation.
Type of PopulationRural
Potential Affected Population300
Start Date1941
Company Names or State Enterprises Sumitomo Metal Mining Co., Ltd. from Japan
Relevant government actorsMinister of Environment

Miyazaki Prefecture

Department of Mining, Fukuoka
Environmental justice organisations and other supporters-Association of Toroku Arsenic Pollution Victims

-Association to Support the Toroku and Matsuo Mining Pollution Victims

- Buddhist organization, Wakokai

-Asia Arsenic Network (AAN), it is a citizens’ association established in April 1994 by those doctors, teachers and journalists, among others, who supported the struggle of the Toroku and Matsuo arsenic victims.
The Conflict and the Mobilization
Intensity of Conflict (at highest level)MEDIUM (street protests, visible mobilization)
When did the mobilization beginMobilization for reparations once impacts have been felt
Groups MobilizingFarmers
Local ejos
Local scientists/professionals
Religious groups
Forms of MobilizationCommunity-based participative research (popular epidemiology studies, etc..)
Creation of alternative reports/knowledge
Development of alternative proposals
Involvement of national and international NGOs
Lawsuits, court cases, judicial activism
Media based activism/alternative media
Official complaint letters and petitions
Environmental ImpactsVisible: Air pollution, Soil contamination, Waste overflow, Surface water pollution / Decreasing water (physico-chemical, biological) quality, Groundwater pollution or depletion
Health ImpactsVisible: Exposure to unknown or uncertain complex risks (radiation, etc…), Mental problems including stress, depression and suicide, Occupational disease and accidents, Other Health impacts, Deaths, Other environmental related diseases
Other"At the Toroku mine and refinery in Miyazaki, Japan, white arsenic was intermittently produced by calcinating arsenopyrite for about 28 years between 1920 and 1962. The health damage to nearby residents resulted from this was officially recognized in 1973 by the Pollution Health Damage Compensation Law. Dr. Shinkan Tokudome et al. indicated that many cases of lung cancer had been observed among the residents.,Following this, reports from case and follow-up studies were made on cancers in Toruku. One of the best among these is, "An Epidemiological Study on Cancer in Certified Arsenic Poisoning Patients in Toroku" by Toshihide Tsuda (now Assistant Professor, School of Medicine, Okayama University), Tsuyoshi Nagira, et al. of Oita Kyowa Hospital." (Hidenori Yokoi, see Sources).
Socio-economic ImpactsVisible: Loss of livelihood, Specific impacts on women
Potential: Violations of human rights, Loss of landscape/sense of place
Project StatusStopped
Pathways for conflict outcome / responseCompensation
Court decision (victory for environmental justice)
Project cancelled
Withdrawal of company/investment
Do you consider this as a success?Not Sure
Why? Explain briefly.It took decades until some compensation was paid after a court case, many of the victims of arsenic pollution were dead by then. But the court case was won. Liability by the company was established.
Sources and Materials

Pollution-related Health Damage Compensation Law 1973
[click to view]


Toroku: Mountain Dreams, Chemical Nightmares, by Timothy S. George, in Japan at Nature's Edge: The Environmental Context of a Global Power, by Ian Jared Miller, Julia Adeney Thomas, and Brett L. Walker eds. 2013.University of Hawai'i Press


Living in the Midst of the Mining Industry in the Philippines and Japan: Community and Civil Society Struggle to Respond, by Bampen Chaiyarak (2009-2010)
[click to view]

Shigeto Tsuru, The Political Economy of the Environment: the case of Japan, Bloomsbury, London, 2012, p. 179 f.

Hidenori Yokoi, Bladder Cancer Newly Added to Compensation Criteria: The Case of Arsenic Poisoning in Toroku
[click to view]


URI professor talks about Japan’s Minamata chemical disaster and historic mercury treaty. October 23, 2013. (Also on Toroku case).

(See below under Other Comments).
[click to view]

Other Documents

[click to view]

The Sumitomo Metal Mining Co. Ltd is liable for the pollution damage and must "pay" the compensation
[click to view]

Other CommentsFrom Prof. Timothy George (excerpts from interview, 2013): "In Minamata I met a photographer, Jin Akutagawa, who had long been photographing and working on behalf of victims of poisoning from an arsenic mine in the tiny mountain hamlet of Toroku in Miyazaki prefecture. That arsenic poisoning became Japan’s fourth officially recognized pollution disease (Minamata disease having been the first). I went to Toroku in 2008 to begin my research, and this year published a chapter on Toroku’s environmental history from neolithic times to the present in a collection of essays by scholars of Japan’s environment, Japan at Nature’s Edge. I spent the 2012-13 academic year on sabbatical in Japan ... doing further research on Toroku for a full-length book. The most fascinating things about the Toroku story have turned out to be the ways its environment has linked it to the wider world. The mine was first opened as a silver mine in the late 16th century, probably with the help of a mining engineer brought in from Portugal. The mine was reopened in the early 20th century, a global age of chemicals, as an arsenic mine. One destination of Toroku’s arsenic was the United States, where before the invention of DDT arsenic was used in pesticides sprayed on cotton fields to combat boll weevils. Toroku’s arsenic was also in chemical weapons used by the Japanese military in China in World War Two. The mine was closed in 1962, but it was not until after the Minamata movement that the Toroku victims were able to garner support and sue for redress. After a settlement imposed by the Supreme Court in 1990, the locally-based citizens’ group that had worked to support the victims transformed itself into an international NGO, the Asia Arsenic Network, which works mostly in Bangladesh."
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Last update01/12/2016