Saturday December 14, 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

Reduction in Air Pollution May Increase Life-Expectancy: Study

Findings of a Research indicate almost immediate and substantial effects on health outcomes followed reduced exposure to air pollution

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Pollution
Fortunately, reducing air Pollution can result in prompt and substantial health gains. Pixabay

Reductions in Air Pollution yielded fast and dramatic impacts on health-outcomes, as well as decreases in all-cause morbidity, a new study suggests.

The study, published in the journal Annals of the American Thoracic Society, reviewed interventions that have reduced air pollution at its source. It looked for outcomes and time to achieve those outcomes in several settings, finding that the improvements in health were striking.

Starting at week one of a ban on smoking in Ireland, for example, there was a 13 per cent drop in all-cause mortality, a 26 per cent reduction in ischemic heart disease, a 32 per cent reduction in stroke, and a 38 per cent reduction in chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). Interestingly, the greatest benefits in that case occurred among non-smokers.

“We knew there were benefits from pollution control, but the magnitude and relatively short time duration to accomplish them were impressive,” said lead author Dean Schraufnagel from the American Thoracic Society in the US.

“Our findings indicate almost immediate and substantial effects on health outcomes followed reduced exposure to air pollution. It’s critical that governments adopt and enforce WHO guidelines for air pollution immediately,” Schraufnagel added.

Pollution
Reductions in Air Pollution yielded fast and dramatic impacts on health-outcomes, as well as decreases in all-cause morbidity, a new study suggests. Pixabay

According to the researchers, In the US a 13-month closure of a steel mill in Utah resulted in reducing hospitalisations for pneumonia, pleurisy, bronchitis and asthma by half.

School absenteeism decreased by 40 per cent, and daily mortality fell by 16 per cent for every 100 µg/m3 PM10 (a pollutant) decrease.

Women who were pregnant during the mill closing were less likely to have premature births.

A 17-day ‘transportation strategy,’ in Atlanta, Georgia during the 1996 Olympic Games involved closing parts of the city to help athletes make it to their events on time, but also greatly decreased air pollution.

In the following four weeks, children’s visits for asthma to clinics dropped by more than 40 per cent and trips to emergency departments by 11 per cent. Hospitalizations for asthma decreased by 19 per cent.

WHO
Findings of the Study indicate almost immediate and substantial effects on health outcomes followed reduced exposure to air pollution. It’s critical that governments adopt and enforce WHO guidelines for air pollution immediately. Wikimedia Commons

Similarly, when China imposed factory and travel restrictions for the Beijing Olympics, lung function improved within two months, with fewer asthma-related physician visits and less cardiovascular mortality.

“Fortunately, reducing air pollution can result in prompt and substantial health gains. Sweeping policies affecting a whole country can reduce all-cause mortality within weeks,” Schraufnagel said.

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Local programmes, such as reducing traffic, have also promptly improved many health measures, said the study. (IANS)