Saturday October 19, 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)

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Thai Authorities Issue Alert over Increase in Air Pollution in Bangkok

The country's authorities consider anything exceeding 50 µg/m3 to be unhealthy, whereas the World Health Organization recommends

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Thai, Authorities, Air Pollution
The pollution control department, in a statement said that PM2.5 - particles 2.5 microns or less in diameter - levels were between 40 and 78 micrograms per cubic metre (µg/m3) in the capital and its surrounding cities. Pixabay

Thai authorities on Monday issued an alert over an increase in air pollution in Bangkok and recommended the people to exercise precaution, especially minors, the elderly and the sick.

The pollution control department, in a statement said that PM2.5 – particles 2.5 microns or less in diameter – levels were between 40 and 78 micrograms per cubic metre (µg/m3) in the capital and its surrounding cities.

The country’s authorities consider anything exceeding 50 µg/m3 to be unhealthy, whereas the World Health Organization recommends that PM2.5 levels should not exceed 25 µg/m3, according to Efe news.

The department, in a statement, urged people in higher risk categories, such as children, pregnant women, the elderly and the sick to stay indoors.

Thai, Authorities, Air Pollution
Thai authorities on Monday issued an alert over an increase in air pollution in Bangkok and recommended the people to exercise precaution, especially minors, the elderly and the sick. Pixabay

Prime Minister Prayut Chan-ocha tweeted encouraging people to use masks and called for construction firms and factories to cooperate to reduce air pollution.

According to the authorities, the increase in pollution is due to the scarcity of rainfall in recent days.

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Chengdu (China), Hanoi, Bangkok, Hong Kong and Seoul on Monday topped the list of the major cities with the highest levels of air pollution, according to Air Visual, a platform that measures air pollution around the world. (IANS)