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Environmental historian now tackles industrial disease in Japan
Date:2/18/2010

BOZEMAN, Mont. -- Controlling Japanese B encephalitis might seem easy to an outsider.

Since the brain-injuring virus needs mosquitoes and pigs to spread, government officials should ban standing water in cemetery cisterns and urban drainage ditches. They should keep industrial "piggeries" away from cities and their populations.

But issues arising from industrial disease are much more complex than that, said Montana State University historian Brett Walker, author of a new book, titled Toxic Archipelago: A History of Industrial Disease in Japan. Increasingly renowned as an environmental historian, Walker urges government officials, scientists, humanists and others to take a broad, interdisciplinary approach when attempting to understand and remedy colossal environmental problems, including disease.

Looking at encephalitis from a religious perspective, for example, revealed that some Buddhists believed that mosquitoes moved the souls of the dead from one world to the next in the transmigration of the soul, Walker said. Buddhist monks tolerated bowls of standing water and cisterns in Japanese cemeteries, because it facilitated this transmigration process. Since mosquitoes breed in the standing water, the insects are available when needed to transport the souls of the dead.

Looking at encephalitis from a historical perspective showed that the disease wasn't a big problem in pre-industrial Japan, because the historical, cultural and ecological conditions weren't in place. They came with modernization and industrialization.

"Before the 19th century, there was little animal husbandry, for religious and economic reasons, so no pigs, and few large cities were located next to the rice paddies where mosquitoes bred," Walker said.

The 19th and 20th centuries brought big changes, however.

"Giant piggeries were built near cities because meat was modern and pigs ate waste," Walker said. "And in large ci
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Contact: Evelyn Boswell
evelynb@montana.edu
406-994-5135
Montana State University
Source:Eurekalert

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