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Environmental irony: Pollution caused by trees in Japan

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So far we only thought of trees as beneficial to our environment. But this belief has been turned upside down. Recently, Cypress and Cedar trees in Japan have been found to be causing massive amounts of nitrogen runoff into local streams. This in turn, is resulting in harmful algae blooms.

Surprisingly, nutrient pollution can be caused due to mismanaged forests. But, it’s not exactly their fault.

Why is this occurring?

The main reason for this occurrence is because these trees are planted in massive commercial plantations. These plantations were established half a century ago when the import of wood by the Japanese companies was at its peak. Many of these plantations have now fallen into a state of disrepair due to negligence. Also, the shift in the market has left an abundance of wood plantations, which are now causing major problems for adjacent wildlife.

How is high concentration of nitrogen in soil harmful?

The older, slowly growing trees use relatively less nutrients (or nitrogen) than younger trees, which grow faster and require more nutrients. Nowadays, rarely any new tree grows in the plantations because the land has become densely populated with older trees which prevent sunlight from nourishing the shorter, nascent trees. In addition, there is an unusually high concentration of nitrogen in the soil on the plantations, which is left to run off into neighboring waterways. As a result, algae blooms have begun to form in the highly nitrogenous marine habitats.

How is algae bloom affecting wildlife?

The algae sucks oxygen out of the water, and therefore, other marine wildlife are unable to survive (a process known as eutrophication). According to the American Society of Agronomy, the problem is widespread. These large plantations account for up to 30 percent of forestland across Japan.

Climate Change is making Trees grow rapidly

A new study penned by Kyushu University’s Masaaki Chiwa, says that the process can be prevented by adequate forest management. Chiwa is encouraging the owners of the large plantations to thin them out and create room for new, smaller trees to utilize the abundant nutrients in the soil. His team is already investigating the impact of recent trimming operations on local waterways. They have been measuring water quality to evaluate any further harmful effects of forest thinning on water quality including nitrogen loss.

This post originally appeared on DSCOVRD.

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Japan Bans Smoking Inside Public Facilities, Seen By Critics as Pointless

The upper house approved and enacted the bill into law Wednesday after it was approved earlier by the lower house

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Japan
The law will be implemented in phases through April 2020. VOA

Japan on Wednesday approved its first national legislation banning smoking inside public facilities, but the watered-down measure excludes many restaurants and bars and is seen by critics as toothless.

The legislation aims to lower secondhand smoking risks ahead of the 2020 Tokyo Olympics amid international calls for a smoke-free event. But ruling party lawmakers with strong ties to the tobacco and restaurant industries opted for a weakened version.

The upper house approved and enacted the bill into law Wednesday after it was approved earlier by the lower house.

Last month, Tokyo separately enacted a stricter ordinance banning smoking at all eateries that have employees, to protect them from secondhand smoke. The ordinance will cover about 84 percent of Tokyo restaurants and bars.

But the law still allows many exceptions and the Tokyo Games may not be fully smoke-free.

Japan often has been called a smokers’ paradise. Until now it has had no binding law controlling secondhand smoke and ranked among the least protected countries by the World Health Organization. That has brought pressure from international Olympic officials.

The new national law bans indoor smoking at schools, hospitals and government offices. Smoking will be allowed at existing small eateries, including those with less than 100 square meters (1,076 square feet) of customer space, which includes more than half of Japanese establishments. Larger and new eateries must limit smoking to designated rooms.

Violators can face fines of up to 300,000 yen ($2,700) for smokers and up to 500,000 yen ($4,500) for facility managers.

The law will be implemented in phases through April 2020.

Japan
The new national law bans indoor smoking at schools, hospitals and government offices. Pixabay

‘Too lenient’

The law allowing smoking at more than half of Japan’s restaurants as exceptions is inadequate, said Hiroyasu Muramatsu, a doctor serving on Tokyo’s anti-smoking committee. “The law is too lenient compared to international standards,” he told Japan’s NHK public television. “We need a full smoking ban.”

The health ministry’s initial draft bill called for stricter measures but faced opposition from lawmakers sympathetic to the restaurant industry. The government also was viewed as opposed to harsher measures because the former monopoly Japan Tobacco is still partly state-owned.

In Japan, almost a fifth of adults still smoke. The rate for men in their 30s to 50s is nearly twice as high, according to a government survey last year.

Also Read: Passive Smoking May Spike up Snoring Risk in Kids

Most office workers now light up only in smoking rooms or outdoors, and cities are gradually imposing limits on outdoor smoking in public areas. But most restaurants and bars in Japan allow smoking, making them the most common public source of secondhand smoke.

“Secondhand smoking has been largely considered an issue of the manners, but it’s not,” Kazuo Hasegawa, 47, a nonsmoker who has developed lung cancer, told NHK. “It’s about health hazards. It harms people. And I don’t want younger generations to have to suffer like me.”

In Japan, about 15,000 people, mainly women and children, die annually as a result of secondhand smoke, according to government and WHO estimates. (VOA)