Air pollution levels reached so high in southwestern Japan on Tuesday that authorities asked residents of one island to voluntarily remain at home as a safety precaution.
The request to residents of Kumamoto Prefecture on the southwestern island of Kyushu was the first since the Ministry of the Environment released new air-safety guidelines last month, The Wall Street Journal reports
The warning also came amid increasing fears about toxic air pollution spreading from China and threatening Japanese coastal areas, The Journal reports.
A reading at one of the prefecture’s 18 checkpoints, Arao-city in northern Kumamoto, indicated that levels of “PM 2.5” were above 85 since early morning, a spokesman for the prefecture told The Journal, “so we decided to issue the warning.”
PM 2.5 is particulate matter with a diameter of 2.5 micrometers or less that can be inhaled. It can cause asthma, bronchitis, lung cancer, and other illnesses, The Journal reports.
The spokesman said that while studies on the contents of PM 2.5 would be carried out, most likely the matter came from China.
The ministry’s new guidelines advise local governments to warn residents when PM 2.5 levels exceed 70 micrograms per cubic meter on a daily average, The Journal reports. The ministry’s normal environmental standard is 35 micrograms.
The government has said the concentration of PM 2.5 could surpass 70 micrograms per cubic meter on a given day if the average from 5 to 8 a.m. exceeds 85 micrograms for that checkpoint, The Journal reports.
As to whether the pollution is really coming from China, a report released last month by the National Institute for Environmental Studies said its observations and a simulation model concluded that it was a “high probability” that “trans-boundary air pollution” had been responsible for high levels of PM 2.5, especially in southwestern Japan.
To help China reduce its pollution emissions, which also threaten South Korea and other neighboring countries, Tokyo has offered technological cooperation to help Beijing get its emissions under control.
But China has been reluctant to accept such aid, according to Environment Minister Nobuteru Ishihara, The Journal reports.
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