Five prefectural governments in western Japan, the ones closer to mainland China, have issued air pollution warnings to their population as of March 29. PM2.5 levels, the standard that these local governments use to measure pollutant density in the air, have been high the past weeks that the Kumamoto, Yamaguchi, Oita, Nagasaki and Shimane prefectures have had to inform the residents in their areas about the dangers the air pollution brings.
PM2.5 readings refer to the density of particles 2.5 micrometers or smaller in diameter in the air; PM stands for particulate matter. Under this umbrella term, the air is measured for pollutant density, including coal-powered electric plant emissions, and other chemical substances from incinerators and automobiles. The central government has set guidelines for prefectures to issue warnings if the PM2.5 levels reach 70 micrograms, the general limit at which air pollutant levels start having negative effects on a healthy adult. In comparison, PM2.5 levels in Beijing have reached into the hundreds earlier this year, and the pollutants get carried towards Japan by the traditional westerly winds which originate from the Himalayas and blow through mainland China out into the Pacific until around May. “China’s air pollution rapidly worsened between the latter half of the 1990s and the first half of the 2000s. Since then, PM2.5 density has remained high,” said Toshihiko Takemura, 38, associate professor of Kyushu University’s Research Institute for Applied Mechanics. “It’s not true that the density has recently surged,” he added, alluding to arguments that China’s air pollution has only started recently.
Because of this, the Fukuoka city government has imposed on itself even stricter warning levels. Instead of the 70 micrograms as required by the central government, the city officials start issuing warnings when the PM2.5 levels reach 35 micrograms. They say that at these levels, some people sick with asthma, lung cancer and other respiratory ailments already start to have negative effects. According to the city government forecasts, levels have exceeded 35 micrograms on eight days since February 15. The highest PM2.5 level observed in Fukuoka was 61.5 micrograms on March 19 this year.
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