The smog that has engulfed much of China over the past month has now infiltrated Japanese skies, prompting the country’s environmental ministry to issue health warnings for children and the sick.
“Access to our air-pollution monitoring system has been almost impossible since last week, and the telephone here has been constantly ringing because worried people keep asking us about the impact on health,” an unnamed Japanese environment ministry official told the AFP news agency on Monday.
The environment ministry’s website has been overloaded with traffic, AFP reported. According to the Hong Kong Standard, the ministry also advised residents to close their windows and wear breathing masks, which are commonly used in East Asia.
“China is our neighbor, and all sorts of problems happen between us all the time,” Takaharu Abiko, 50, told AFP. “It is very worrying. This is dangerous pollution, like poison, and we can’t protect ourselves. It’s scary.”
Three cities in Hiroshima prefecture, located in southern Japan, recorded 40 micrograms per cubic meter on the PM 2.5 particulate scale used to measure air pollution. The small particles can penetrate the lungs and cause respiratory illnesses. The World Health Organization (WHO) says it is “unhealthy” to breathe air that has more than 25 micrograms of micro-particles per cubic meter.
In mid-January, during the peak of China’s pollution epidemic, Beijing’s air registered more than 990 micrograms per cubic meter on the same scale. For the past several weeks, the PM 2.5 level has been consistently over 500 micrograms per cubic meter, far exceeding the “hazardous” level set by the WHO.
Japanese officials did not implicate China for the smog blanketing parts of Japan, but the environment ministry’s Yasushi Nakajima told AFP that “we can’t deny there is an impact from pollution in China.”
“At this time of year they are definitely not yellow sands” that are blown over from Chinese and Mongolian deserts, “so they’re toxic particles,” said Atsushi Shimizu, with Japan’s National Institute for Environmental Studies. “People with respiratory diseases should be careful,” he cautioned.
The warning in Japan comes just two weeks after reports of the smog from China engulfing much of South Korea. Seoul, the capital, experienced 218 particles per cubic meter on the PM 10 scale, another metric to measure small particles in the air.Toshihiko Takemura, an associated professor with Kyushu University, told the news agency that an increase in Chinese air pollution in parts of Japan has become a worrying a trend in recent years.
“Especially in Kyushu, the level of air pollution has been detectable in everyday lives since a few years ago,” he said. “People in eastern and northern Japan are now belatedly noticing the cross-border air pollution.”
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