21 August 2019
Air pollution covers buildings in Beijing's central business district. Neighboring countries are concerned that filthy air from China can be a major source of pollution. Photo: Bloomberg
Air pollution covers buildings in Beijing's central business district. Neighboring countries are concerned that filthy air from China can be a major source of pollution. Photo: Bloomberg

Japanese complaints about pollution from China to get louder

Japan has been voicing complaints in recent years that toxic pollutants from China are affecting the air quality in the island nation. Such criticism could now get more strident following a new report from a member of the Japanese environment ministry’s expert panel on PM2.5 particulate matter.

According to the report, 39 percent of PM2.5 in the air on average in Tokyo last year was from China. PM2.5 refers to fine airborne particulates with a diameter of 2.5 microns or less, deemed to be the most dangerous as they can enter a person’s lungs.

Southern and western Japanese prefectures that are closer to China have recorded a higher share. Okinawa, for instance, the most southwesterly prefecture on the island of Kyushu, can trace up to 61 percent of its PM2.5 pollutants back to China, the report said, according to the Southern Weekend.

Tokyo is just three hours by air from Beijing. The close proximity is the underlying cause of the mounting concern among Japanese that pollutants from China — from acid rain, sand storm, ozone to PM2.5 — can pose rising threat to their health. Japan and China are all within the range of the prevailing westerlies of the northern hemisphere but Japan is in the areas downwind of China.

Fukue, an island under the jurisdiction of the Nagasaki prefecture, is another testimony of the environmental impact from China. The island is sparsely populated with no industrial activities but as it is just around 700 kilometers from Shanghai, it is suffering from the winds blowing from across the sea. In 2010, Fukue had 26 days where its local PM2.5 readings exceeded the World Health Organization’s standard of no more than 25 µg/m³, the report notes.

Meanwhile, residents of the South Korean island of Jeju have also complained that every time northern China is blanketed in smog, air quality in Jeju also becomes unhealthy for sensitive groups like children and the elderly.

Chinese environmental officials and researchers have refuted the accusation. An expert with the Institute of Atmospheric Environment at the Chinese Research Academy of Environmental Sciences told Xinhua that the concentration and the trans-boundary movement of PM2.5 pollutants is a highly complex process and for major metropolitan cities like Tokyo, the prime source of pollution can only be local emissions like vehicle smoke, exhaust gas and other nitrogen oxide compounds.

But he acknowledged that with the yearly average PM2.5 readings of 20 µg/m³, Tokyo’s air quality, already the worst in Japan, is a cause for concern.

For years some Japanese green groups have been planting trees in deserts in Inner Mongolia and northern Hebei province to combat sand storms, in a precautionary measure to help reduce the impact on Japan. Now the Japanese authorities are also mulling plans to help tackle air pollution in a joint effort with its neighbor. Japan has some of the world’s most advanced technologies of air purification and emissions control.

The first tripartite meeting among environmental ministers of China, Japan and South Korea on air pollution was held this March in Beijing.

Related stories: 

China wrestles with the economics of smog

Pollution culprits may soon have nowhere to hide

– Contact the writer at [email protected]


Tokyo has been grappling with worsening air pollution and officials there blame China for the problem. Photo: StockArch

Smog hangs in the air in Shenzhen. Hong Kong also suffers when China’s air pollution reaches hazardous levels. Photo: Bloomberg

EJ Insight writer

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