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FROTH AND BUBBLE
'Minamata' mercury treaty conference kicks off in Japan
by Staff Writers
Tokyo (AFP) Oct 07, 2013


High pollution levels hit Beijing at Golden Week's close
Beijing (AFP) Oct 06, 2013 - A cloud of pollution descended over Beijing at the weekend, shrouding the city and its famous cultural landmarks in a thick haze amid a US warning against physical activity outdoors.

The Beijing Municipal Environmental Monitoring Center said on its website Sunday that pollution levels in the city's six core districts was at 225-245.

According to a table carried in the state-run Beijing News daily, such a reading corresponds to Level 5 on the pollution scale. Anything above 300 is Level 6, China's highest.

Readings posted by the United States embassy, however, were much higher.

In an email message to American citizens Sunday morning, the embassy said that readings on its Air Quality Index (AQI) "have averaged over 300 in the 24-hour period beginning at 8:00 pm on October 4, and were over 400 overnight".

The embassy added that based on recommendations by the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), AQI levels surpassing 301 "are considered hazardous" with the EPA recommending that amid such readings "everyone should avoid all physical activities outdoors".

A photo on the front page of the Beijing News showed the city's Forbidden City -- once home to China's emperors and a major tourist site -- enveloped in thick haze on Saturday.

The pollution comes as China's annual Golden Week national holiday approaches its final day Monday and while Beijing and environs are hosting major international sporting events.

The final of the China Open tennis tournament was set for Sunday in Beijing, while the Reignwood LPGA Classic women's golf tournament was scheduled to enter its final round.

Separately, Sunday also marks the opening ceremony for the East Asian Games athletics meet in Tianjin, 135 kilometres (84 miles) southeast of the capital.

Cities across China have been hit by intense air pollution in recent years, much of it caused by emissions from coal-burning power stations, with levels of small particles known as PM2.5 reaching as high as 40 times World Health Organization limits this year.

China's pollution problems are blamed on rapid urbanisation, dramatic economic development and climatic factors. Pollution tends to worsen as winter approaches. Earlier this year, pollution levels soared with the US embassy's AQI soaring above 500.

A UN conference to sign a historic treaty aimed at reining in the use and emission of mercury began Monday in Kumamoto, near Minamata, the site of Japan's worst-ever industrial poisoning.

Delegates from some 140 countries and regions are scheduled to attend the five-day conference in the country's southwest, organisers said.

The conference comes after a January agreement on details of the world's first legally binding treaty on mercury, a highly toxic metal.

Preparatory meetings kicked off Monday at the venue, the organisers said, while local media said the treaty is likely to be adopted unanimously on Thursday.

The treaty has been named the Minamata Convention on Mercury, in honour of the Japanese city around 2,000 people died and many more were made sick by mercury dumped by a local factory.

Delegates are to visit Minamata on Wednesday to mourn the victims.

The treaty will take effect once ratified by 50 countries -- something organisers expect will take three to four years.

Mercury, also known as quicksilver, is found in products ranging from electrical switches, thermometers and light-bulbs, to amalgam dental fillings and even facial creams.

Serious mercury poisoning affects the body's immune system and development of the brain and nervous system, posing the greatest risk to foetuses and infants.

The treaty sets a phase-out date of 2020 for a long line of products including mercury thermometers, while the text gives governments 15 years to end all mercury mining.

But environmental groups say the treaty falls short in addressing artisanal small-scale gold mining, a major source of large amounts of the heavy metal, which also directly threatens the health of miners.

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FROTH AND BUBBLE
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Tokyo (AFP) Oct 04, 2013
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)," Osamu N ... read more


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