Friday, March 1, 2013
EDITORIAL: Govt Should Come Clean On PM2.5 Pollution
TOKYO (Nikkei)--The Japanese government should immediately provide information on PM2.5, as the particulate matter in the skies over China is known, to ease public fears in Japan about air pollution.
Factories and cars emit PM2.5, which contaminates the air with tiny, toxic particulate matter measuring 2.5 microns (1 micron = 1 millionth of a meter) in diameter or less. They can lead to asthma, strokes and other serious health problems.
The Ministry of the Environment has provisionally identified PM levels of 70 microns per cubic meter as hazardous. This is double the amount that it considers safe. If atmospheric PM content starts to near that threshold, municipalities will issue health advisories urging people to stay indoors.
People should not panic, because there is no scientific evidence suggesting that healthy adults could become sick after several hours of exposure to PM levels that are only slightly above 35 microns per cubic meter. The authorities need to continually update people on the latest information.
The ministry should come up with specific provisional guidelines so people can use them as a reference when they go outdoors. The guidelines have yet to address specific concerns, such as the precautions that people who work outdoors should take, or whether schools can hold student field trips. But if people start avoiding all outdoor activities, economic growth could start to slow.
The government needs to quickly set up more observatories to monitor air pollutants. There are now only 550 such facilities throughout Japan. The nation needs to come up with a system to promptly share data with the public.
PM2.5 is not a new environmental concern for Japan. Pollution in China has made particulate matter a hot news topic in recent weeks, but Japan has been also emitting the pollutant for years.
The ministry has clearly procrastinated in addressing this issue. It should seriously think about imposing strict rules on PM2.5 emissions at home.
Yellow sand from China's deserts are expected to carry more toxic pollutants over Japan in the spring. The government will monitor atmospheric PM levels exceeding 70 microns per cubic meter in a number of locations.
The government, municipalities and citizens need to work together to fight against cross-border pollution.
(The Nikkei, March 1 morning edition)