Japan is seeking to co-operate and exchange information with China on the recent bout of severe smog in many Chinese cities as Japanese fret that the toxic haze may drift into their own skies.
The Foreign Ministry said it plans to pursue the issue with China once its weeklong Lunar New Year holiday ends in mid-February. It is unclear if tensions with Beijing over a territorial dispute might interfere with that plan.
Many Japanese cities suffered from severe smog in earlier decades, during the country’s industrial boom. But enforcement of fuel and clean air standards helped clear the skies, and pollution is much less severe than in most of China.
Publicly released data so far has shown no correlation between the recent peaks in levels of harmful particulates in China, which obscured skies in some cities last month and prompted authorities to warn residents to stay indoors when possible, and overall smog levels in Japan.
But Japanese media have carried numerous stories on the potential for the smog to spread given prevailing wind patterns.
Japanese pollution monitors have recorded elevated levels of contaminants in the past, especially during the spring dust storm season, when clouds of yellow silt from the Gobi desert have affected both Japan and South Korea. Japan has long worked with China on reducing acid rain resulting from pollution on the Asian mainland.
Last month, the US Embassy in Beijing reported an hourly peak level of PM2.5 at 526 micrograms per cubic meter, or “beyond index,” or more than 20 times higher than World Health Organisation safety levels over a 24-hour period.
In southern Japan’s Fukuoka prefecture, on the island of Kyushu, extra monitors were set up last week to measure pollutants that might have spread from China. Readings there showed levels of PM2.5 – a secondary pollutant that forms in the air and is tiny enough to penetrate deep into the lungs — at about 50, above the local standard of 35.
Japan’s Environment Ministry has said it plans to issue guidelines for alerts in case they become necessary.
Soaring vehicle emissions in China are a big source of PM2.5. But the country’s heavy reliance on coal to fuel its power generation, its widespread burning of leftover vegetation in harvested fields and poor quality fuel are also to blame. Although China has sought to impose strict fuel quality standards, experts say they are often flouted, while penalties for pollution violations are mild and enforcement of controls is haphazard.