BEIJING--The Japanese Embassy here has likened conditions for residents in this heavily polluted city to "testing on animals," and is urging expatriates to seal their apartments against toxic airborne particles.
On Feb. 6, diplomats briefed an audience of roughly 150 businesspeople and their relatives in response to alarm expressed by the foreign community over the city's opaque, foul-smelling air.
Yuta Okazaki, first secretary at the embassy, said air pollution levels fell to within safety standards on only four days in January.
The problem lies in car exhaust, emissions from factories and household heating systems, which pump out particles of up to 2.5 micrometers in size.
Fine particles such as these drift in the atmosphere and are drawn deep into the lungs. There, they either clog the delicate tissues, triggering asthma and even lung cancer, or are absorbed into the blood and aggravate conditions such as heart disease.
Okazaki has considerable authority on the subject. He came to the foreign service from the Environment Ministry and has worked on the legal situation surrounding environmental pollution in Japan.
He related a personal anecdote about why people in Beijing should be alarmed. The filter of an air purifier he uses at home, he said, turned brown within just a month of use.
He said children are potentially more vulnerable than adults because they have a higher breathing rate to body weight ratio.
Okazaki urged those present to take measures such as filling in the gaps around doors and windows to prevent drafts.
Kayoko Hirano, a medical attache at the embassy, gave details of how pollution triggers respiratory ailments.
The problem is one that vexes Japanese companies operating in China. Personnel departments are at a loss how to allay the concerns of employees and their families.
An official from one such department spoke up, saying it is not easy to suggest that businesspeople send their families back to Japan because it can disrupt children's education.
One woman in the audience who brought her 3-year-old son along said the child had already begun showing symptoms of asthma.
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