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South Korea Has a Long Road On Its Way To Combat Fine Dust

"Artificial rainfall itself is difficult,” Kim said, “a sufficient amount of rain should be falling to wash away the dust… I do not think it will be easy.”

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South Korea, Fine DUst
Smoke rises from a chimney in downtown Pyongyang, North Korea, September 7, 2018. Picture taken September 7, 2018. VOA

South Korea’s initial attempt at countermeasures to end the country’s current fine dust problem failed this week. Officials had sought to create artificial rain to address the current heavy air pollution many in Seoul blame on neighboring China. It’s an issue becoming more and more critical for residents.

Kim Byung-gon, a Professor at Gangneung-Wonju National University Department of Atmospheric and Environmental Sciences told VOA that while fine dust particles from China are part of the problem, it isn’t the only thing causing South Korea’s bad air.

“Fine dust occurs when pollutants emitted from China and internal (South Korean) pollutants stay in the air,” said Kim, who also noted that the exact cause of Seoul’s pollution problem has yet to be fully identified.

Dong Jong-in, a professor in the Department of Atmospheric and Environmental Sciences at the University of Seoul, said that while domestic factors do affect the overall particulate matter in the air, “fine dust that has flowed from the outside [the country] in the upper air stream is the key factor.”

 

Korea
A train transporting dozens of South Korean officials runs on the rails which leads to North Korea, inside the demilitarized zone separating the two Koreas in Paju, South Korea. VOA

 

As a result of continued concern by residents about the on-going increase in bad air quality days, South Korean President Moon Jae-in has announced that resolving the country’s fine dust problem will be one of the policy tasks his administration will undertake.

Choking on air

For three consecutive days in mid-January, the South Korean government issued alerts to citizens, warning of high levels of micro-dust in the air and urging them to stay inside, or if they had to be outside, to wear masks and keep exposure to a minimum.

During these days, thick, fine dust blanketed most of the country. The pollution was not only visible to the naked eye, but could be felt in the back of one’s throat according to one resident who spoke to South Korea’s Yonhap News.

“The air is so murky and my throat hurts that I even feel depressed. It’s as if there is a really thick fog,” the individual said.

Dong Jong-in said the air over the Korean peninsula had been quite dusty for some time. South Korean authorities had monitored overall dust levels and saw some improvement between 2012 and 2013, but since then and the inclusion of PM2.5 particles (ultrafine dust particles that are considered hazardous) in 2015 there has been a marked increase in pollution levels.

FILE - Protesters attend an anti-THAAD protest in Seongju, South Korea. ​THAAD
FILE – Protesters attend an anti-THAAD protest in Seongju, South Korea.
​THAAD

“As coal fuel use increases in China, patterns of ultrafine dust rise when west-winds blow. In the past, this was only a problem in winter, but the dusty season has widened to the late autumn and spring,” said Dong.

This is a concern, said Kim Byung-gon, because there are risks that come with increased exposure. “[World Health Organization] studies have indicated that it (ultrafine dust) acts as a primary carcinogen.”

Dong added that the “fine dust affects not only the respiratory system, but also blood vessels, heart, is implicated with brain disease, and dementia… it will also harm children and pregnant women.”

Resolving the problem

Last week, a plane flew into the airspace west of Seoul carrying silver iodide, a chemical that helps water droplets form in clouds. Authorities say it released 24 bursts of the chemical above clouds in hopes of inducing rain.

The Korea Meteorological Administration (KMA) said the initial results were “disappointing.”

While the KMA did detect a weak, misty rain for several minutes, “there was no observation of significant precipitation.”

“Aside from its success or failure, the test was an opportunity to accumulate the necessary technology for faster commercialization of cloud seeding,” the KMA added.

North Korea, South Korea
An explosion is part of the dismantling of a South Korean guard post in the Demilitarized Zone dividing the two Koreas in Cheorwon, Nov. 15, 2018. Relations between the Koreas have improved this year, with the North entering disarmament talks with a vague promise to achieve complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula. VOA

The agency is expected to release a full report next month and to carry out 14 more tests this year in hopes of perfecting the technology by 2024.

Kim Byung-gon said the government’s plan does have some merit, since several countries around the globe employ such tactics.

Also Read: South Korea Confirms First Case of MERS Since 2015

However, “Artificial rainfall itself is difficult,” Kim said, “a sufficient amount of rain should be falling to wash away the dust… I do not think it will be easy.”

He added that utilizing cleaner fuel, reducing automobile emission pollutants, and addressing factory pollutants must also be part of any solution to the problem at hand. (VOA)

Next Story

The Flamboyant Plastic Waste Boat Reminds The Global Policy-Makers The Urgency To Address Impact Of Plastics on The World’s Marine Environment

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plastic waste
The plastic waste was melted, shaped and carved by the team of traditional dhow builders exactly as they would do with wood. Pixabay

This flamboyant nine-metre-long dhow, made from 10 tonnes of plastic waste collected from Kenyan beaches and roadsides, sailed more than 500 km from the idyllic island of Lamu to Zanzibar this year with a message to eliminate single-use plastics.

And it also reminds the global policy-makers the urgency to address and lessen the growing impact of plastics on the world’s marine environment.

The Flipflopi dhow was positioned right at the entrance of the conference venue in the UN Environment headquarters in Nairobi where over 4,700 delegates from 170 countries gathered for the week-long UN Environment Assembly, the world’s highest-level decision-making body on the environment.

“Marine plastic litter pollution is already affecting more than 800 marine species through ingestion, entanglement and habitat change,” UN Environment’s coral reef unit head Jerker Tamelander said.

“Waste continues to leak from land and coral reefs are at the receiving end. They also trap a lot of fishing gear as well as plastic lost from aquaculture. With the impacts of climate change on coral reef ecosystems already significant, the additional threat of plastics must be taken seriously.”

pollution
“Marine plastic litter pollution is already affecting more than 800 marine species through ingestion, entanglement and habitat change,” UN Environment’s coral reef unit head Jerker Tamelander said.
Pixabay

The majority of marine litter – between 60-80 per cent – is composed of plastic.

Only nine per cent of the nine billion tonnes of plastic the world has so far produced has been recycled.

The overwhelming majority of plastics – comprising drinking bottles, bottle caps, food wrappers, grocery bags, lids and straws – are designed to be thrown away after a single use, ultimately ending up in landfills and polluting the environment.

“The first leg of the journey is over, but the journey continues,” Kenyan entrepreneur and Flipflopi project leader Dipesh Pabari told reporters here.

“When you are on the boat and you come to know that it’s made from your toothbrushes and Pet bottles. You will ask how and that is the real story,” he said.

Coming from a family of carpenters and dhow builders in Lamu, an island off the North Coast of Kenya, Ali Skanda is intimately familiar with what goes into building a dhow – a sailboat that has been used in East Africa for more than a thousand years.

On its maiden 500-km-long sojourn, supported by the UN Environment’s Clean Seas campaign, the Flipflopi stopped at towns and cities to sensitize the communities on ways to cut down use of single-use plastics.

A report, Plastics and Shallow Water Coral Reefs, released at this UN Environment Assembly, which focus on innovative solutions for environmental challenges, identifies a number of knowledge gaps that must be addressed to strengthen the scientific evidence base for action on marine plastics that impact coral reefs.

Inspired by 15-year-old Swedish climate activist Greta Thunberg, activist Rebecca Freitag, 26, a UN delegate for sustainable development from Germany, told IANS that the youth should be given participation in environment talks as they comprised 25 per cent of the global population.

Before coming to the UN summit, she collected the plastic waste from roadsides of Kenya, which introduced the world’s toughest laws on single-use plastic bags two years ago, and got her dress stitched to spotlight solutions for the growing impact of plastics on the world’s marine environment.

plastic
“Waste continues to leak from land and coral reefs are at the receiving end. They also trap a lot of fishing gear as well as plastic lost from aquaculture. With the impacts of climate change on coral reef ecosystems already significant, the additional threat of plastics must be taken seriously.” Pixabay

The Flipflopi is now ready for a voyage next month for a greater political and social awareness of the issue of plastic pollution.

“Now we want to build a 20-m long boat that is capable of sailing to South Africa and beyond,” Pabari said.

For this, $1.5 million is required.

The Flipflopi team has had to pioneer new techniques to craft the dhow’s various components.

Also Read: Biotechnology Can Meet The Growing Energy Needs Of Rural India

The plastic waste was melted, shaped and carved by the team of traditional dhow builders exactly as they would do with wood.

Every single element of the boat has been constructed by hand and the whole boat has been clad in colourful sheets of recycled flipflops.

These flipflops have been collected on beach cleanups on Lamu’s beaches, where they are among the most prolific items found. (IANS)