Fukuoka issues warning on high PM2.5 levels

by Eric Johnston

Staff Writer

High levels of PM2.5 particulate matter were recorded Friday in parts of western Japan, prompting the city of Fukuoka to issue a warning amid growing concern that the pollution crisis in China will keep affecting Japan.

In Osaka Prefecture, PM2.5 levels of 35 micrograms per cu. meter or more were recorded at noon at 14 of 17 monitoring stations, with the highest level reaching 58 micrograms per cu. meter of air.

The city of Fukuoka issued a PM2.5 alert in the morning after levels of 38.3 micrograms per cu. meter were recorded, warning those with respiratory ailments and allergies to be careful.

The central government’s safety standard for PM2.5 exposure is a mean of 35 micrograms per cu. meter over a 24-hour period, and 15 micrograms per cu. meter annually. Health warnings are issued by the central government if levels reach 70 micrograms per cu. meter.

Many local governments in western Japan, unlike Tokyo, are providing detailed hourly PM2.5 figures on their websites and have adopted stricter policies. The city of Fukuoka starts to warn its residents when PM2.5 levels of 35 micrograms per cu. meter are reached.

Japan’s PM2.5 exposure standard is not as strict as those set by the World Health Organization, which are a mean of 25 micrograms per cu. meter for a 24-hour period and a mean of 10 micrograms per cu. meter annually.

Friday’s readings in Fukuoka and Osaka followed a week of higher than allowable PM2.5 readings in many parts of the country. Earlier this week, Suzuka, Mie Prefecture, saw levels briefly reach 60 micrograms per cu. meter. In Chiba Prefecture, the city of Kashiwa saw levels hit 53 micrograms per cu. meter.

Heightened PM2.5 levels in Japan are due to the ongoing pollution crisis in many parts of China, where thick concentrations of PM2.5-laden smog have plagued the country in recent weeks. At one point, the northeastern city of Harbin saw PM2.5 levels rise to more than 1,000 micrograms per cu. meter. Coal-burning plants, water shortages leading to dust storms, and the increased use of agricultural chemicals are all cited as reasons for the smog problems.

Using data from the U.S. government as well as from Chinese environmental groups, the website aqicn.org tracks, in English, air quality in Beijing and six other cities. As of 11 a.m. Friday, Beijing had a PM2.5 reading of 179 per cu. meter, while PM2.5 levels in Nanjing stood at 291 micrograms per cu. meter.

In May, Japan, China, and South Korea agreed to share data on PM2.5 levels. Finding cross-border solutions to the problem will not be easy, given political tensions between Tokyo and Beijing and Seoul over historical and territorial issues.