Air pollution has become a serious issue in China and the government there is facing rising public criticism. Concern in Japan is also increasing as winds carry the pollution here. The Chinese government must take drastic measures to rectify the situation. Having experienced and overcome similar problems that cropped up during its period of high economic growth, Japan should provide whatever technical assistance it can.
Especially problematic are fine particles called PM2.5, whose diameter is 2.5 micrometers or less (1 micrometer is one-millionth of a meter). These particles can penetrate deep into lungs, causing asthma and bronchitis and increasing the risk of lung cancer. It is also feared that inhalation of PM2.5 can lead to hardening of the arteries, which in turn can result in myocardial or cerebral infarction.
Automobiles, factories, coal-burning power plants and heaters at home using coal are the sources of PM2.5 in China. Japan’s standard is a daily average of 35 micrograms in one cubic meter of air. The corresponding Chinese standard is 75 micrograms.
According to the Chinese Environment Protection Ministry, during the Chinese New Year holiday from Feb. 9 to 15, a maximum 306 micrograms of PM2.5 was detected per cubic meter of air in Beijing, 577 micrograms in Tianjin (Tientsin) and 527 micograms in Shijiajuang in Hebei Province.
The ministry also said that early this month up to a quarter of China was covered with thick fog containing toxic substances and that some 600 million people in 17 provinces, directly controlled cities and autonomous regions were affected. About 70 percent of Chinese cities do not meet the government’s pollution standard. In January, pediatrics hospitals in Beijing were filled with infants suffering from asthma or bronchitis.
In Beijing, it is clear that an increase in the number of automobiles is contributing to the capital’s worsening air pollution. In early 1997, Beijing had 1 million cars. By early 2012 this number had increased to 5 million, and 78 percent of them are privately owned. The Beijing city government should improve public transportation, including constructing subway lines, strictly control car traffic, and enact policies that will encourage people to use public transportation instead of driving.
To better protect the health of citizens, the Japanese government should try to get relevant information on pollution from China in a timely manner. It should also provide financial assistance to local governments so they can set up more monitoring posts. The Environment Ministry has a goal of setting up some 1,300 monitoring posts, but fewer than 600 posts are expected to be established by the end of March.
When fine articles from China are forecast to blow to Japan, the government should quickly issue warnings so citizens can protect themselves by wearing face masks or limiting their time outside.