Acidic Precipitation in Japan

  • T. Katoh
  • T. Konno
  • I. Koyama
  • H. Tsurata
  • H. Makino
Part of the Advances in Environmental Science book series (ENVIRON.SCIENCE, volume 5)


Serious interest in chemical pollution in precipitation began in Japan in 1930. However, the strong influence of the surrounding oceans on the atmospheric pollution environment in this island country was not at first fully realized. In the 1970s, people in the Kanto Plains—Tokyo and the surrounding coastal plain area—experienced a period of severe eye irritation. The major cause was at first thought to be industrial emission into the atmosphere of SOx and NOx. However, the severity of the pollution was found to be heavily influenced by the nature of the precipitation involved. In Japan approximately one-third of the days each year have some precipitation. In the summer there are many sudden rain squalls; from spring to the beginning of summer and then in the fall there is “weather-front-induced” precipitation. This is a lighter, steady precipitation but with small, concentrated areas of very heavy rainfall. The periods of most intense eye irritation are those with mist or very light rainfall. At these times, there is a stationary weather front extending east-west along the southern portion of the Kanto Plains area. The major sources of eye irritation are considered to be the strong acids H2SO4 and HNO3, as well as formaldehyde, acrolein, formic acid, and H2O2. In addition to the human eye irritation there was pollution damage to eggplants, cucumbers, string beans, and other types of vegetables. Then, beginning in 1985 pollution damage weakening Japanese cedars in the northwest portion of the Kanto Plains became evident. The source was thought at first to be pollutant gases but was found to include acidic precipitation also.

Beginning in 1973 the Department of Air Pollution, Environmental Protection Measures Promotion Headquarters, Kanto District Governors Association (EPMPH), and the Environmental Agency began the systematic collection of pollution data. Their survey revealed that eye irritation was also related to the same meteorological conditions. The investigation showed that, with low pH (3.0 and less, during very light precipitation), the SO4 2- and NO3 - ion concentrations were high. Also, formaldehyde and other substances were found involved in the eye irritation attacks. The studies in the Kanto Plains showed that the NO3 - concentration predominated over that of SO4 2-. However, outside the Kanto Plains the situation was reversed, with the SO4 2- concentration being highest. In the Tokyo vicinity, the NOx and SOx concentrations are high due to auto emissions and the extensive industrial complex. Even though the Kanto Plains are surrounded to the west and north by 1000- to 2000-m mountains, there is the possibility of the resultant pollutant concentrations being carried as far as 150 to 200 km distant. However, the phenomenon of a changing and then inverting NO3 - to SO4 2- ratio in regions further out is a subject of continuing study. The Environmental Agency conducted a long-term survey of pollutant concentrations from 1984 to 1986. The membrane-filter method was employed, taking weekly samples of collected precipitation. The pH was found to vary from 4.0 to 7.1 with an annual average of 4.5 to 5.2. The SO4 2--S was 780-1640 mg m-2 yr-1 and excess (over ocean sources of S) SO4 2--S was 840-1270 mg m-2 yr-1 The NO3 --N was 170–760 mg m-2 yr-1.

From 1950 to 1960, weakening of trees in the central Tokyo area occurred. The Japanese cedar was particularly hard hit and many trees had to be cut down. Now this problem has extended to the surrounding areas. Even the tops of large Japanese cedars have been severely damaged, and the problem worsens year by year. But the precise cause has not yet been determined.


Japanese Cedar Brown Forest Soil Annual Deposition Stationary Front Kanto Region 
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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag New York, Inc. 1990

Authors and Affiliations

  • T. Katoh
    • 1
  • T. Konno
    • 2
  • I. Koyama
    • 3
  • H. Tsurata
    • 4
  • H. Makino
    • 5
  1. 1.Hokkaido Research Institute for Environmental PollutionSapporoJapan
  2. 2.National Agriculture Research CenterIbarakiJapan
  3. 3.Tokyo Metropolitan Research Institute for Environmental ProtectionTokyoJapan
  4. 4.Yokohama Environmental Research InstituteKanagawaJapan
  5. 5.Kanagawa Prefectural Environmental CenterKanagawaJapan

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