Tuesday March 26, 2019

Air Pollution in South Korea Hits Record, Creates Urgency for Government

Seoul’s concentration of fine dust measured 111 micrograms Wednesday, with even higher levels in outlying regions.

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south korea, china, air pollution
A student wearing a mask uses his mobile phone during a polluted day in Seoul, South Korea, March 5, 2019. VOA

Record high ultra-fine dust levels in South Korea this week are creating urgency for political leaders to take action towards ensuring more breathable air.

Levels of particulates smaller than 2.5 micrometers (PM 2.5) in diameter hit new records on Monday and Tuesday, soaring in excess of what international health officials deem acceptable.

The World Health Organization recommends keeping PM 2.5 pollutants below 25 micrograms per cubic meter. Seoul’s concentration of fine dust measured 111 micrograms Wednesday, with even higher levels in outlying regions.

south korea, air pollution, china
Apartment complexes are seen shrouded by fine dust during a polluted day in Seoul, South Korea, March 6, 2019. VOA

The capital region’s iconic mountain and skyscraper cityscape has been a dim and hazy silhouette for much of the week, and mobile phones across the country have been vibrating with warnings from the government that citizens should limit outdoor activities. Anti-pollution masks are a frequent sight on convenience store shelves and on commuter faces.

The pollution levels have triggered local emergency measures around the country under which coal plants and other pollution emitting facilities can be restricted. Older diesel cars can also be banned from roads, and school and work hours can be curtailed at the discretion of local officials.

A high concentration of automobiles is one factor cited in South Korea’s pollution problem, something the government is trying to mitigate with a major push toward hydrogen and fuel cell vehicle development. South Korea has also pivoted away from nuclear energy in the aftermath of the 2011 Fukushima disaster, reverting to coal for energy needs. However, experts say as much as 70 percent of the dust blows over from China.

Shing Yong-seung, with the Research Institute of Public Health and Environment in Seoul, said fireworks displays in China contributed in part to the recent spike in pollutants over the Korean peninsula.

south korea, air pollution, china
Fireworks light up the sky over Xiangzhou port of Zhuhai during a celebration to mark 40 years since Zhuhai became a city, in Guangdong province, China, March 5, 2019. VOA

“On February 19, we were able to confirm that chemicals used in Chinese fireworks increased up to 11 times higher than the previous concentration,” Shin told reporters in a Wednesday briefing. “This means that China’s pollutants have also affected the country, especially Seoul,” he said.

President Moon Jae-in instructed government officials Wednesday to discuss ways for South Korea and China to cooperate, including collaboration on artificial rainfall, or cloud-seeding to rinse some of the particles out of the air. “Since China is more advanced in artificial rainfall technology,” spokesman Kim Eui-Kyeom told reporters,“the president instructed the Environment Ministry to push forward on artificial rainfall projects with China in the West Sea.”

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Lawmakers from South Korea’s three largest parties say they’ll work together to pass new measures next week aimed at combating severe fine dust. Many South Koreans complain that short term domestic steps will not sufficiently clear the air, saying only more proactive cooperation with China is likely to have any chance of being effective in the long run. (VOA)

Next Story

South Korea Installs Laser Beams at a Road Crossing to Warn ‘Smartphone Zombies’ of Traffic

In addition to red, yellow and blue LED lights on the pavement, "smombies" - smartphone zombies - will be warned by laser beam projected from power poles and an alert sent to the phones by an app that they are about to step into traffic

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south korea
A researcher demonstrates an application that gives an alert to a user distracted by using smart phone while crossing a zebra crossing, in Ilsan, South Korea, March 12, 2019. VOA

A city in South Korea, which has the world’s highest smartphone penetration rate, has installed flickering lights and laser beams at a road crossing to warn “smartphone zombies” to look up and drivers to slow down, in the hope of preventing accidents.

The designers of the system were prompted by growing worry that more pedestrians glued to their phones will become casualties in a country that already has some of the highest road fatality and injury rates among developed countries.

State-run Korea Institute of Civil Engineering and Building Technology (KICT) believes its system of flickering lights at zebra crossings can warn both pedestrians and drivers.

In addition to red, yellow and blue LED lights on the pavement, “smombies” – smartphone zombies – will be warned by laser beam projected from power poles and an alert sent to the phones by an app that they are about to step into traffic.

south korea
A warning sign is projected next to a zebra crossing in Ilsan, South Korea, March 12, 2019. VOA

“Increasing number of smombie accidents have occurred in pedestrian crossings, so these zombie lights are essential to prevent these pedestrian accidents,” said KICT senior researcher Kim Jong-hoon.

The multi-dimensional warning system is operated by radar sensors and thermal cameras and comes with a price tag of 15 million won ($13,250) per crossing.

Drivers are alerted by the flashing lights, which have shown to be effective 83.4 percent of the time in the institute’s tests involving about 1,000 vehicles.

In 2017, more than 1,600 pedestrians were killed in auto related accidents, which is about 40 percent of total traffic fatalities, according to data from the Traffic Accident Analysis System.

South Korea has the world’s highest smartphone penetration rate, according to Pew Research Center, with about 94 percent of adults owning the devices in 2017, compared with 77 percent in the United States and 59 percent in Japan.

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For now, the smombie warning system is installed only in Ilsan, a suburban city about 30 km northwest of the capital, Seoul, but is expected to go nationwide, according to the institute.

Kim Dan-hee, a 23-year-old resident of Ilsan, welcomed the system, saying she was often too engrossed in her phone to remember to look at traffic.

“This flickering light makes me feel safe as it makes me look around again, and I hope that we can have more of these in town,” she said. (VOA)