Monday January 20, 2020

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

Air Pollution, Stress Associated with Thought Problems in Kids: Researchers

Stress likely leads to wide-ranging changes in, for example, epigenetic expression, cortisol, inflammation, and brain structure and function

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Pollution, pollutants, India, air pollution, WHO, diwali
Delhi air quality continues to be 'very poor'. VOA

Parents, please take note. Researchers have revealed that kids with elevated exposure to early life stress in the home and increased prenatal exposure to air pollution exhibited heightened symptoms of attention and thought problems.

Early life stress is common in youth from disadvantaged backgrounds who also often live in areas with greater exposure to air pollution, according to the study, published in the Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry.

“Prenatal exposure to polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, a neurotoxicant common in air pollution, seems to magnify or sustain the effects of early life social and economic stress on mental health in children,” said study first author David Pagliaccio from Columbia University in the US.

“Air pollutants are common in our environment, particularly in cities, and given socioeconomic inequities and environmental injustice, children growing up in disadvantaged circumstances are more likely to experience both life stress and exposure to neurotoxic chemicals,” said senior author Amy Margolis.

Air pollution has negative effects on physical health, and recent work has begun to also show the effects on mental health. Life stress, particularly in early life, is one of the best-known contributors to mental health problems.

This new study examined the combined effects of air pollution and early life stress on school-age children.

According to the researchers data were collected from the CCCEH Mothers and Newborns longitudinal birth cohort study in Northern Manhattan and the Bronx, which includes many participants who self-identify as African American or Dominican.

Mothers wore an air monitoring backpack during the third trimester of pregnancy to measure exposure to air pollutants in their daily lives.

Stress
Stress is increasingly becoming a dreaded phenomenon. Lifetime Stock

When their children were 5 years old, mothers reported on stress in their lives, including neighbourhood quality, material hardship, intimate partner violence, perceived stress, lack of social support, and general distress levels.

Mothers then reported on their child’s psychiatric symptoms at ages 5, 7, 9 and 11.

The combined effect of air pollution and early life stress was seen across several measures of thought and attention problems/ADHD at the age 11.

The effects were also linked to PAH-DNA adducts–a dose-sensitive marker of air pollution exposure.

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The researchers said that PAH and early life stress may serve as a “double hit” on shared biological pathways connected to attention and thought problems.

Stress likely leads to wide-ranging changes in, for example, epigenetic expression, cortisol, inflammation, and brain structure and function.

The mechanism underlying the effects of PAH is still being interrogated; however, alterations in brain structure and function represent possible shared mechanistic pathways, the study said. (IANS)