A research group has announced that mercury concentrations that are higher than the national average have been detected at the peak of Japan’s iconic Mt. Fuji. The group said that the numbers and quantities detected are not necessarily harmful to people, but since the location is primarily devoid of factory pollutants and nearby sources, they surmise that this might be caused by cross-border pollution from China.
The group, headed by Prof. Osamu Nagafuchi from the University of Shiga Prefecture, collected data and measured 2.8 nanograms of mercury per cubic meter of air at the summit of Mt. Fuji in August. The highest amount was in 2007, when 25.1 nanograms were recorded at the peak. Because of these numbers, Japan’s Environment Ministry will begin a fixed-point observation project in the Asia-Pacific region that will see the cooperation of the United States and Vietnam, among other nations starting next year. “When analyzing the situation, including weather conditions, the reason seems to be contaminated air flowing over from China,” said Nagafuchi, an expert in environmental science. Nagafuchi and other researchers have carried out a survey at the peak of Mt. Fuji, 3,776 meters above sea level, for about two weeks every summer since 2007. The highest figures of each year, except 2007, range from 1.9 to 5.4 nanograms. The figures vary, but they mostly exceed the national average.
Data from the United Nations Environment Program says that nearly 2,000 tons of mercury was released into the air worldwide in 2010, mainly because of industrial activity which includes gold refining and coal-burning. The data also revealed that around one-third of that amount comes from China. The numbers measured at Mt. Fuji are peculiar, since mercury is hardly ever used in Japan anymore. Japan’s history with mercury includes the Minamata disease, a neurological disease caused by mercury poisoning. To combat the harmful effects of mercury usage in developing countries, eight nations will participate in the fixed-point observation project in the Asia-Pacific region. Starting with rainwater research, the project will eventually expand to cover air pollution as well. “It is important that developing nations, mainly China, reduce the amount of mercury they use,” said an environment ministry official. “Although the Minamata Convention will create international regulations, we hope to collect data in the observation project that can be used to devise effective measures.”