Mercury pollution from mercury use in ancient Japan

Many people may have learned about mercury pollution from the Minamata disease for the first time. However the history of mercury pollution goes back much further than you can imagine.

In ancient times, mercury was thought of as a mysterious medicine and many emperors and kings used it as an elixir of life. Of course, presently nobody believes mercury to be an elixir of life, however some people still take mercury as a medicine for insomnia.

Mercury was also used for gold plating. The largest amount mercury used (2,400kg) was for the construction of the Great Buddha in Todai-ji Temple in Nara Prefecture (built in 752).

Todai-ji Temple in Nara Prefecture

According to history books, after the construction, many workers and residents around Todai-ji Temple suffered from mercury pollution. It is said that this is the first case of mercury pollution in Japan.