Forum takes up Asia-Pacific’s dirty air problems

by Eric Johnston

Staff writer

KYOTO — The air quality in and around major industrial centers in the Asia-Pacific region will continue to worsen unless mutually-agreeable countermeasures are taken, participants at an air pollution seminar said Friday in Kyoto.

Sponsored by United Nations University and Shimadzu Corp., the symposium drew about 200 people and included scientists and engineers from Japan, the U.S., China, Korea, Vietnam, Malaysia, Singapore, Indonesia, Thailand, the Philippines and the World Health Organization.

Coming just two months after the COP3 conference, in which developing nations agreed to emissions reduction targets for six greenhouse gases, conference speakers presented data on air quality levels throughout the region, and discussed technologies and regulations being employed in certain areas to reduce not only air, but also soil and water pollution.

“It’s clear that air pollution is increasing in the Asia-Pacific region. However, we find that emission and other standards vary greatly from country to country, depending on national priorities,” said Juha Uitto, senior program officer for environment and sustainable development at the United Nations University in Tokyo, in his welcome address.

In Japan, the dioxin issue is a topic of growing concern. Takashi Iijima, director of the Environmental Agency’s air pollution control division, said Japan currently has 234 different hazardous air pollutants. “For 22 pollutants, including dioxin, priority action must be taken,” he said.

Iijima also noted that a study carried out between 1993 and 1995 on the status of acid rain deposits in Japan and their effects on the ecosystem showed roughly the same level of acid deposition as in Europe or America.

“Though clear signs of adverse effects on island water ecosystems or soil and vegetation have not been detected yet, such deposition could cause adverse effects on the ecosystem,” Iijima said.

But air pollution in Japan still remains a problem. “The amount of dioxin annually released into the air in Japan is estimated to be between 5,100 and 5,400 g/TEQ (grams/toxic equivalents). Municipal solid waste incinerators account for about 80% of this total, and the levels of dioxin in Japan’s urban areas are about 10 times higher than the rural areas,” said Nobuo Takeda, a Kyoto University environmental engineer.