Environment: Pollution's High Price

Japan's Chisso Corp. sold $200 million worth of petrochemicals last year, is effectively managed, and should by any standards be doing well. But Chisso may soon have to shut down. It is one of several major Japanese businesses that have run afoul of a three-year-old government principle: companies that cause individuals any physical harm or financial loss through environmental pollution must compensate them.

Chisso's trouble began in 1950 after it opened in the fishing port of Minamata an acetaldehyde factory that began to discharge effluents into Minamata Bay. One of the waste substances: a...

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