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Ministry unveils steps to improve fine dust forecast

Ministry unveils steps to improve fine dust forecast

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Published : 2013-12-10 20:11
Updated : 2013-12-10 20:11

The government on Tuesday announced measures to better cope with harmful fine dust amid mounting criticism over its inaccurate forecasts in the past week.

The Ministry of Environment is to have a taskforce of 12 experts from concerned ministries to release a fine dust forecast on a daily basis starting as early as next Monday, according to officials.

The new plan came as smog blanketed much of the country in recent weeks. The smog level was way off from the calculation by the National Institute of Environment Research, drawing public criticism.

Starting February next year, the daily forecast system will be again expanded to twice a day but the scheduled launch of nationwide service will likely be advanced to this month, considering the severity of the smog’s effect on public health.

For easier access to information, notices will be sent through televised and radio reports, and a smartphone application. Those who sign up for the text message alert service on Air Korea’s website (www.airkorea.or.kr) can receive daily notices starting Dec. 26.

Currently, the forecast is only released when the concentration level of fine dust particles smaller than 10 micrometers in diameter, or PM10, is expected to reach 81 micrograms per cubic meter or higher. It only shows data in three regions ― Seoul, the Chungcheong provinces and Gangwon Province.

Announcing a fine dust forecast only in the morning was largely blamed for the research center’s failure to predict the afternoon’s smog level.

On Dec. 3, the forecast center announced the concentration of PM10 would reach between 81 to 120 micrograms per cubic meter and the smog would clear off in the afternoon.

But the choking smog got even thicker in the afternoon, with the concentration level jumping from 120 micrograms per cubic meter at 8 a.m. to 196 micrograms at 4 p.m. The figure is categorized as “bad,” the second-highest level considered on a scale of 0 to 301 micrograms.

The government said it would try to reduce air pollution by increasing the number of environment-friendly cars to 20 percent of the total registered cars in major cities, and reinforcing emissions standards.

Last Thursday, the government issued its first-ever advisory on fine dust pollution and grounded 20 domestic flights. The level of particulate matter smaller than 2.5 micrometers in diameter in the city reached 93 micrograms per cubic meter that day.

According to the environment ministry’s data, the concentration of PM10 dropped almost half from 76 micrograms per cubic meter in 2002 to 41 micrograms in 2012.

But due to China’s increasing reliance on coal and westerly winds carrying heavy metals from the clouds of soot, the number of days when the concentration reached 100 micrograms or higher in Korea jumped from 3 times last year to 22 times this year.

According to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s report, the outflow of China’s PM2.5 will only continue to soar, possibly until 2050.

The biggest threat surrounding the airborne pollutants blanketing the country is health problems. When particles smaller than 10 micrometers are inhaled, it can later cause respiratory diseases and undermine the immune system.

Exposure to ultra-fine particles, PM2.5, can result in more serious health effects as they are reportedly known to penetrate the respiratory system easier that bigger particle matters.

The government is test-running a PM2.5 warning system in seven major cities, including Seoul and Busan, and will expand nationwide in January 2015.

But the road to predicting ultra-fine particulate matters seems not so easy, according to an official from the Korea Environment Corporation, who wished to be identified by his last name Kim.

“Even developed countries currently lack technology in measuring PM2.5. It’s very difficult to develop an installation that filters ultra-fine particles,” Kim said.

On Monday, the Environment and Labor Committee under the National Assembly agreed to raise its budget from 1.7 billion won ($1.6 million) to 11.9 billion won.

To improve the fundamental cause of air pollution originating from China, Korean and Chinese experts are to meet in Beijing on Thursday and hold trilateral talks with Japan in March next year.

By Suk Gee-hyun (monicasuk@heraldcorp.com)

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