A Japanese study is claiming that toxic air pollution from China is to blame for high mercury levels atop the country’s beloved Mount Fuji.
The research will likely do little to help simmering hostilities between the Asian giants, a relationship marred by historical animosities and territorial disputes.
“Whenever readings were high, winds were blowing from the continent [China],” said Osamu Nagafuchi, the lead scientist on the study, on Thursday.
Fuji was chosen “because it’s a place unaffected by urban pollution,” said Nagafuchi, an environmental science professor at the University of Shiga Prefecture.
Pollution levels on Mount Fuji have been monitored annually since 2007, he said, adding the decision to carry out the study on the 3,776m peak had nothing to do with it being designated as a UNESCO World Heritage site earlier this year.
The UNESCO designation led to a surge in visitors to the iconic peak, which figures heavily in Japanese art and literature.
Mercury levels near the top of peak were up to double the levels found in other places free of heavy pollution, according to the survey conducted in August with non-profit group Valid Utilization of Mt Fuji Weather Station.
The levels were as high as 2.8 nanograms of mercury in one cubic meter of air. That is above normally detected levels of about 1.0 to 1.5 nanograms, but still below the 40 nanogram government threshold for posing risks to human health. A nanogram is one billionth of a gram.
The higher-than-expected readings are likely due to Chinese factories burning coal, which releases mercury and arsenic, which also had elevated readings, Nagafuchi said.