August 6, 2021 marks the first anniversary of death of our dear friend Dr. Hirokatsu Akagi well known for his outstanding contributions in scientific research, mentoring, public outreach, and impact on mercury policy and management.
Dr. Akagi has been a distinguished leader in mercury science, management and outreach for over 40 years of his scientific career. His groundbreaking contributions include the development of methodologies that have become standard approaches for mercury analysis in varied biological and environmental materials This work has resulted in highly cited research papers and lectures on mercury, and interactions, outreach and training with diverse institutions and people globally.
Dr. Hirokatsu Akagi retired as director of the Department of International Affairs and Environmental Sciences, Japan. He received his doctorate in Pharmaceutical Sciences at Gifu Pharmaceutical University, Japan. Dr. Akagi has been engaged in mercury research, policy and outreach throughout his career. He has been active in the International Conference on Mercury as a Global Pollutant, serving on the Scientific Steering committee of the 1st through 7th conference, and chairing the 6th ICMGP held in Minamata Japan. Dr. Akagi worked as a technical consultant for the International Atomic Energy Agency Coordinated research programme on health impacts of mercury in contaminated environments. He was a member of the International Council of Science Scientific Committee on Problems of the Environment (SCOPE) initiative on Mercury cycling in Ecosystems (1994-2004). A hallmark of Dr. Agaki’s career has been not only his research on mercury, but his numerous collaborative studies, outreach and training with researchers and agencies from many different countries. He has published numerous research papers on mercury, focusing on analytical methods.
Dr. Hirokatsku Akagi was a recognized researcher and visitor in the Department of Environmental Sciences at the Jožef Stefan Institute, Ljubljana, Slovenia. Cooperation goes back to 1997, in the period of bilateral cooperation under the auspices of the Japan Society for the Promotion of Science (JSPS), Japan and the Ministry of Science and Technology of the Republic of Slovenia. The main topic of the cooperation was dedicated to the development of methods for the determination of mercury in the marine environment, in particular water, and the transformation of mercury compounds in natural samples such as soil and sediments. Only on the basis of the highest quality and comparable data was it possible to simulate the fate and transformations that crucially improved the mathematical models for coastal areas such as Minamata Bay and the Gulf of Trieste. We then included additional partners from the University of Ljubljana and the University of Kagoshima.
Figs 1. Dr. Hirokatsu Akagi and his long friend dr. Arne Jernelov on the occasion of the visit to the Department of Environmental Sciences of the Jožef Stefan Institute, Ljubljana, 2016.
Our cooperation was then extended to study contaminated environments and we prepared a targeted research program for international cooperation under the auspices of the International Atomic Energy Agency - a program of global relevance. The main topic of the cooperation has always been dedicated to the high quality of analytical results for the determination of total and monomethyl mercury. In addition to scientific publications, we have made joint efforts to prepare reference materials that still help to ensure the comparability of analytical results. With the joint efforts we published six highly cited papers and presented 18 conference contributions.
In addition to excellent research cooperation, we also contributed to the establishment of twinning cooperation between the Municipalities of Idrija in Slovenia and Minamata, Japan. Both municipalities inherited the legacy of mercury pollution, which forever marked both places. Dr. Hirokatsu Akagi and Dr. Milena Horvat were the key persons to start the establishment of contacts between mayors of Idrija and Minamata back in 2005. The friendship between the two places has thus become long-term and has resulted in the exchange of school children between places with the main motive to learn from the past for the better future.
Fig 2. In 2011, Dr. Hirokatsu Akagi organized a visit of The Mayor of the Idrija Mr. Bojan Sever with the former Mayor of the Minamata city
Figure 3. In 2015, a Mayor of the Minamata City Mr. Katsuaki Miyamoto returned a visit to Idrija town and formally the friendship agreement was founded
Among the great successes of cooperation, we should certainly not forget the mention of the 6th and 7th ICMGP conferences (International Conference for Mercury as a Global Pollutant in 2002 and 2004, and Minamata and Ljubljana, respectively. We also participated at several international workshops organized by NIMD in Minamata, but also workshops organized in Slovenia.
Dr. Akagi left a remarkable legacy in the field of analytical chemistry of mercury and so today his work is present in many laboratories around the world. All of us who have worked with him, will remember him as an exceptional man and friend; and as such will remain eternally alive in our memory.
Prepared by Milena Horvat
5th August, 2021