[EDITORIALS]Bad air, bad policyData have been released that show Seoul’s air quality is the worst among the 30 countries of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development. Although we have experienced hazy skies and polluted air daily, it is still surprising to be told that the level of pollution in Seoul is even worse than those notoriously polluted places -- Rome and Mexico City. It is deplorable that the government did not take effective measures to stop the environmental degradation. We are worried the situation could get even worse, preventing Seoulites from going on outings in the city.
According to Seoul’s air pollution index, microscopic dust, which causes respiratory diseases, is 1.8 to 3 times more prevalent in Seoul’s air than in that of Tokyo, New York and Paris; and, the density of nitrogen sulfurous acid is 1.7 times higher than that of other industrially advanced countries. Statistics show that the number of people who die from diseases caused by microscopic dust has reached 10,000 per year, and the social cost from air pollution exceeds 8 trillion won ($6.4 billion). The major reason among the various causes of pollution is exhaust fumes, and that from diesel engines are the main culprit. Vehicular exhausts accounts for 85 percent of air pollution in Korea and diesel engines, which account for 29 percent of all automobile engines, account for 52 percent of pollutants emitted by vehicles.
But the Korean government recently adopted a policy that allows sales of diesel-fuel cars. The government has modified the international standard on diesel engines, allowing domestic sales of light-oil fueled cars from 2005. We are perplexed that the government did not make clear the conditions for preventing air pollution. If the price of diesel fuel, which is now 58 percent of the price of gasoline, is not raised to an adequate level, sales of diesel cars will rise drastically. The hurried decision to allow sales of diesel cars, disregarding the technological shortcomings for reducing harmful gas emission and desulfurization, will make air pollution worse.
Environmental activists are worried that government policy bows to short-term economic goals. Environmental issues should not block economic development, but people’s health should not be neglected either.