Bad air from China leads to first Seoul health alert

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Bad air from China leads to first Seoul health alert


Smog mixed with fine-particle dust shrouds Gyeongbok Palace and the Blue House yesterday. [NEWSIS]

For the very first time, the Seoul Metropolitan Government yesterday issued a fine-particle pollution warning after wet clouds with gunk from China settled over the city.

As of 4 p.m. yesterday, all districts in Seoul had levels of fine-particle concentration reaching above 100 micrograms per cubic meter, with some going beyond 200. The warning was issued at 4 p.m.

The average level of fine-particle pollution in Seoul as of 6 p.m. yesterday was 157 micrograms per cubic meter, a level at which the Seoul city government advises people with respiratory illness to refrain from going outside. Gyeonggi’s level was 130 micrograms per cubic meter. Incheon posted 115 micrograms.

The air in the capital region has been getting worse since Dec. 2, largely due to pollution blowing in from China.

Busan yesterday had a low concentration of 65 micrograms per cubic meter. Jeju Island was the only province that had its average pollution level below 50 micrograms per cubic meter yesterday at 48 micrograms.

The National Institute of Environmental Research, which is under the Environment Ministry, strongly advises people, especially those aged 65 and older, to stay indoors when the fine-particle pollution level exceeds 200 micrograms per cubic meter.

At one point yesterday Yeongdeungpo, southwestern Seoul, posted 226 micrograms of fine particles per cubic meter, the state-run Korea Environment Corporation reported. Dongducheon in Gyeonggi reached 285 micrograms per cubic meter yesterday.

The 226 microgram figure is nine times what the World Health Organization considers safe, which is 25 micrograms per cubic meter. Korea’s recommended 24-hour average standard is 50 micrograms per cubic meter.

Air pollution, or particle pollution, is produced when moisture in the air is combined with fine-particle matter. Particles less than 10 micrometers in diameter - known as PM-10, which is about one-seventh the width of a single human hair - are small enough to be inhaled into the lungs. This type of pollution can also contain other elements like smoke, nitrates, dirt or metals, and make the air appear hazy.

According to the National Institute of Environmental Research, Korea is being hit by a massive amount of fine-particle pollution from China. Winds run from west to east in fall and wintertime.

The state-run Health Insurance Review and Assessment Service released a study yesterday showing 1.6 times more people are troubled by asthma in December than in the summer months because of colder temperatures and worse air pollution.

According to the study, the average number of people diagnosed with asthma in December between 2008 and 2012 is 445,840, while the figure in June over the same time period stands at 278,448.

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