South Korea is on alert over choking smog originating from wintertime coal use in China, which is threatening people’s respiratory and immune systems.
The concentration of fine dust particles smaller than 10 micrometers in diameter, or PM10, increased to more than three times normal levels Wednesday, with Gyeonggi Province recording the highest figure of 268 micrograms per cubic meter. The concentration in the province averaged 55 micrograms on Nov. 22, according to the National Institute of Environmental Research.
The concentration raises the fine dust alert level to “very bad,” the highest level considered by the research center. A scale of zero to 30 is “good,” 31 to 80 “normal,” 81 to 120 “slightly bad,” 121 to 200 “bad” and 201 to 301 “very bad.”
Seoul logged 95 micrograms, the western island of Baengnyeong 117 micrograms and Jindo of South Jeolla province 157 micrograms.
The environment center said the concentration in Gyeonggi Province is likely influenced by regional factors as well, such as local factories.
“It is true that smog has become serious over the past few weeks but it will not go over 200 micrograms nationwide,” Ahn Joon-young, a researcher at the environment center, told The Korea Herald.
“Westerly winds blowing from China’s northern regions bear a cloud laden with serious levels of metals, including lead, cadmium and arsenic. We recommend people to wear face masks when there are fine dust warnings,” said Lim Young-wook, assistant director of the Institute for Environmental Research at Yonsei University’s College of Medicine.
Thick smog has been hanging over the skyline of the capital Seoul since Monday, sending sales of face masks soaring in Nov. 4-Dec. 3 to 13 times what they were in the same period a year earlier. The use of dust masks at construction sites jumped 114 percent.
Detergents that claim to wash out heavy metals and bacteria are in demand as well, with sales of hand sanitizers growing 636 percent on-year in the past month.
The government is planning to introduce a national fine dust alert system from 2015, to inform citizens about health risks caused by air pollution.
The Chinese government has recently shown signs of taking the issue seriously as well, a big step for a country that has refused for years to acknowledge the problem.
In September, the Chinese government announced targets to cut coal consumption and it has been carrying out research into alternative energy, public transportation systems and electric cars.
By Suk Gee-hyun (firstname.lastname@example.org)