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The air quality in Japan registered major improvements last year due to favorable meteorological conditions, according to an annual Environment Agency report released Friday.

Air pollution levels of both nitrogen dioxide and suspended particulate matter showed significant improvements due to quirky, but favorable weather conditions.

What the government has not been able to achieve, Mother Nature looks to have accomplished. That, at least, is the best explanation Environment Agency officials have been able to come up with.

Nitrogen dioxide met government-set environmental standard levels at all but 1.1 percent of general monitoring facilities, located in residential areas, and 78 percent of roadside monitoring facilities — a 10 percent improvement from the year before.

Both figures are records and mark the highest ratio of stations meeting the state-set standard of less than 0.06 parts per million since 1983.

Nitrogen dioxide has been implicated in respiratory disorders. It causes acid rain and reacts with sunlight and other compounds to create secondary pollutants, such as photochemical smog.

Some general monitoring stations in Tokyo, Kanagawa and Osaka prefectures failed to meet the environmental standards, as did roadside monitors in 13 prefectures.

But other monitoring stations in Kanto and Kansai, which have a history of dismal air quality and were addressed by a special 1992 law to bring their nitrogen dioxide pollution levels under control, logged major improvements.

In these two regions, 95 percent of general monitoring stations and 59 percent of roadside monitors satisfied government air-quality requirements. These readings put the general monitoring stations at 21 points higher than in 1998, with the roadside monitors up nearly 24 points.

Likewise, levels of suspended particulate matter were also the best on record.

Just over 90 percent of the general monitoring stations met government-mandated standards, up from 67 percent a year before.

Roadside stations also demonstrated a dramatic jump in air quality with more than three-quarters of the 282 sites surveyed falling within the environmental standard — compared with just over a third in 1998.

Suspended particulate matter has been a hot topic of late, as the agency and Tokyo Metropolitan Government try to bring the amount of the matter in the air under control by cracking down on diesel-driven vehicles and their attendant sooty, exhaust fumes.

Unfortunately, officials say the improved air quality results are probably a meteorological fluke rather than the result of government policy.

Strong winds in the Kanto region and increased air circulation due to warmer temperatures close to the ground helped to flush air pollutants from the city, officials said.

Preliminary results from survey data between April and August of this year indicate that air quality is returning to pre-1999 levels, agency officials said.

‘Green’ vehicle target

The government will fall short of a plan to make low-emission vehicles account for 10 percent of its automobile fleet by the end of this year, the Environment Agency said Friday. The number is anticipated to be around 6 percent.

Agency officials said they expect the percentage of low-emission government-operated vehicles to nearly double from 3.1 percent in fiscal 1999 to around 6.13 percent, or 484 of 7,900 vehicles, in fiscal 2000. However, even this would fall shy of the Cabinet-approved goal of 10 percent.

Agency chief Yoriko Kawaguchi announced the results to Cabinet ministers Friday morning in conjunction with a report on the nation’s air quality.

Kawaguchi entreated other ministries to replace their fleets with low-emission vehicles as they get older.

“To increase the use of low-emission vehicles, it is important to boost demand. We need to set goals and strive to achieve them,” she said.

The National Police Agency boasted the highest ratio of low-emission cars at 30 percent.

This was followed by the Fair Trade Commission with 26.3 and the Environment Agency with 12.6 percent.

All other state organs and offices fell below 10 percent.

The Finance, Education and Labor ministries had the most cars in operation at 58, 35 and 26, respectively.

Low-emission vehicles used by the government include natural gas, electric, hybrid and methanol vehicles.

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