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Yusho disease: Kanemi rice oil contaminated with PCB, Japan

A world famous case. In 1968 "Kanemi rice oil" was contaminated with PCB, which was used for heating and circulated through a coil. Somehow, cracks in the coil appeared and PCBs leaked out, contaminating the cooking oil. There were over 14,000 victims.


This was a crucial case not only for Japan but for the world in the battle to prove the risks from PCBs. From February to March, 1968, a mysterious sickness causing difficulty in breathing occurred in poultry farms in a wide area of western Japan, resulting in the death of over 400 thousand birds. These chickens had been fed the dark oil produced at Kanemi Co. The Yushō disease (油症?) was a mass poisoning by polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs). For deodorization, the oil was heated using PCB as the heating medium, circulating through pipes. Due to holes in the pipes the PCB leaked into the rice bran oil.

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Basic Data
Name of conflict:Yusho disease: Kanemi rice oil contaminated with PCB, Japan
State or province:Fukuoka Prefecture
Location of conflict:Kitakyushu City
Accuracy of locationMEDIUM (Regional level)
Source of Conflict
Type of conflict: 1st level:Biomass and Land Conflicts (Forests, Agriculture, Fisheries and Livestock Management)
Type of conflict: 2nd level :Intensive food production (monoculture and livestock)
Chemical industries
Specific commodities:Rice
Project Details and Actors
Project details:

PCB is thought to have effects as an endocrine disruptor, in addition to causing direct health effects such as skin rush and many others. In Japan, PCB was noted for its toxicity with the Kanemi Yusho incident in 1968, as a turning point. Contaminated oil was sold in the marketplace and people who consumed it fell ill. Victims were afflicted with various health problems, such as skin pigmentation effects, an increased fetal death rate, and chlorine acne. Even before the harm to people was revealed, chickens had been affected. Hens were fed chicken feed contaminated with the oil and a massive death occurred; however, these deaths were not considered a serious issue. If they had been taken seriously, then perhaps the Kanemi Yusho accident would not have happened. The contaminating agent was Kanechlor 500 (KC-500), a brand name of PCBs.

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Type of populationUrban
Affected Population:14,000
Start of the conflict:1968
End of the conflict:2013
Relevant government actors:Ministry of Human Welfare
Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry
Courts of Law (district courts and Supreme Court)
Environmental justice organizations (and other supporters) and their websites, if available:Groups of plantiffs (Fukuoka group; Kokura group ...)
Kanemi Rice Bran Oil Poisoning Victims' Group
Conflict and Mobilization
IntensityMEDIUM (street protests, visible mobilization)
Reaction stageMobilization for reparations once impacts have been felt
Groups mobilizing:Local government/political parties
Local scientists/professionals
Support from leftist groups / political parties
Forms of mobilization:Community-based participative research (popular epidemiology studies, etc..)
Lawsuits, court cases, judicial activism
Official complaint letters and petitions
Public campaigns
Street protest/marches
Sitdowns in courts of justice
Impacts of the project
Health ImpactsVisible: Other Health impacts, Exposure to unknown or uncertain complex risks (radiation, etc…), Other environmental related diseases, Deaths
Other Health impactsMassive case of poisoning and persistent illnesses caused by contamination by PCB and dioxin. Endocrine disruptors. (See also "Other comments").
Socio-economical ImpactsVisible: Loss of livelihood, Violations of human rights
Potential: Increase in Corruption/Co-optation of different actors
Project StatusStopped
Conflict outcome / response:Compensation
Court decision (victory for environmental justice)
Court decision (undecided)
Development of alternatives:Liability of the Kanemi company was established. PCBs were banned some years after 1968.
Do you consider this an environmental justice success? Was environmental justice served?:Not Sure
Briefly explain:Although there was some monetary compensation for the victims, this was very difficult to achieve and took a long time. Some court decisions were favourable and some not. The company survived the scandal and the damage done. PCBs were banned after some time.
Sources and Materials
References to published books, academic articles, movies or published documentaries

Shigeto Tsuru, The Political Economy of the Environment: the case of Japan, 1999, p. 163-170 (on the Kanemi oil PCB case)

The Yusho and Yucheng Rice Oil Poisoning Incidents, April 2012.

DOI: 10.1002/9781118184141.ch16. In Dioxins and Health including other Persistent Organic Pollutants and Endocrine Disruptors, Third Edition, John Wiley & Sons, Inc., by Yoshito Masuda and Arnold Schecter, pp.521-551.
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[1] European Environment Agency, Late lessons from early warnings 1896-2000, chapter 6, PCBs and the precautionary principle, by Janna G. Kappe and Jane Keys.
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Gensyu Umeda, PCB poisoning in Japan, Ambio 1(4)<. 132-134, Sept. 1972.
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Yoshito Masuda, The Yusho rice oil poisoning incident, chap. 19 in Arnold Schecter, ed. Dioxins and Health, Springer, 1994.
[click to view]

Japanese environmental pollution : a case study of the kanemi rice oil disease victims, by Phillip A. Hausknecht, Ann Arbor : Univ. MI, 1986.

Links to general newspaper articles, blogs or other websites

Yusho disease, Wikipedia
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What are PCBs?
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Most Kanemi oil victims exempted from paybacks, The Japan Times, 2 June 2007
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The Japan Times, 22 March 2013: Suit in ’68 Kanemi oil poisoning axed. KITAKYUSHU – A branch of the Fukuoka District Court threw out a ¥605 million damages suit filed by victims of a massive food poisoning case in 1968 that was blamed on toxic cooking oil made by Kanemi Soko K.K.
[click to view]

Hatamura Institute, Contamination of rice bran oil with PCB used as the heating medium by leakage through penetration holes at the heating coil tube in deodorization chamber.
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The Japan Times, Patients newly recognized as victims of a 1968 mass food poisoning across western Japan filed a ¥286 million damages suit against the manufacturer of the contaminated cooking oil, Kanemi Soko K.K., and two of its officials. May 24, 2008.
[click to view]

Other documents

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Other comments:EEA, Late lessons from early warnings, ch. 6: " The Yusho accident. The first clinical sign was a strange skin disease with conjunctivitis, swelling of eyelids and
chloracne. The victims’ whole bodies, including the extremities, were covered with acne-like pustules. The most common symptoms were pigmentation of nails, skin and mucous membranes; increased sweating of the palms; severe headache; swollen joints and feelings of weakness. About half of the victims coughed persistently with expectoration resulting in a chronic bronchitis. These respiratory symptoms correlated with PCB levels in the blood. It took more than 10 years for these symptoms to decline. Some of the victims were pregnant when they
consumed the PCB-contaminated oil. Of 11 babies born to these mothers, two were stillborn. All were ‘Coca-Cola’ coloured, growth-retarded, had increased eye discharges and nail pigmentation. Follow-up studies of the children showed their
growth to be hampered, their IQs to be low, and their demeanour generally apathetic and dull. There was an increased mortality of the whole group of Yusho patients..." [1]
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