China’s smog polluting Fuji, new study says

AFP-JIJI

A Japanese study is claiming that toxic air pollution from China is to blame for high mercury levels atop beloved Mount Fuji.

The research will do little to cool the hostilities simmering between the Asian giants, whose relationship is currently marred by a territorial dispute and historical animosities.

“Whenever readings were high, winds were blowing from the continent (China),” Osamu Nagafuchi, the lead scientist on the study, said recently.

Mount Fuji was chosen “because it’s a place unaffected by urban pollution,” said Nagafuchi, an environmental science professor at the University of Shiga.

Pollution levels on Mount Fuji have been monitored annually since 2007, he said, adding the decision to carry out the study on the 3,776-meter peak had nothing to do with it being designated a UNESCO World Heritage site earlier this year.

The designation, delayed by years of efforts to remove tons of trash from the iconic peak, which figures heavily in Japanese art and literature, preceded this summer’s climbing season.

Mercury levels around the top of the mountain were up to double the levels detected in other places free of heavy pollution, according to the survey, conducted in August with nonprofit group Valid Utilization of Mount Fuji Weather Station.

The mercury levels were as high as 2.8 nanograms per cu. meter of air. That exceeds the 1.0 to 1.5 nanograms normally detected in clean locations but is well below the government’s 40-nanogram threshold for posing risks to human health. A nanogram is one-billionth of a gram.

The higher-than-expected readings are likely due to Chinese factories burning coal, which releases mercury and other toxic elements such as arsenic, whose levels were also elevated, according to Nagafuchi.

The study comes as fast-industrializing China wrestles with a severe urban smog problem linked to hundreds of thousands of premature deaths. Last month, the Chinese government vowed to reduce levels of atmospheric pollutants in Beijing and other major cities by as much as 25 percent to try to improve their dire air quality.

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