Better pollution measures neededWhat is wrong with our air quality forecast? Weather authorities warn of bad air on a clear day, which has people scurrying to buy masks. On Thursday, for the first time, the Seoul Metropolitan Government issued a code orange alert, the threshold for unhealthy air for sensitive groups like children, older adults and individuals with respiratory weaknesses, due to surge in fine-particle pollution from China. However, the National Institute of Environmental Research delivered a contradictory forecast - that air quality was “normal” for outside activities. These mixed and unreliable forecasts only exacerbate public concerns about air quality. Authorities said that the forecast was just a test, which still doesn’t explain how they got it so wrong.
Due to the pace of industrialization, uninvited smog concentrated with hazardous particulate matter will likely cross over the border and affect Korea throughout the year. A solid forecast system should be the basic protection against trans-boundary air pollutants.
But the Ministry of Environment, the Korea Meteorological Administration and local governments are often out of tune. The ministry and weather authority must fine-tune infrastructure to enhance accuracy in forecasts and establish communication networks with local governments, to warn residents so that they can take preventive steps. There are reports that there are only three experts in deciphering fine-particle pollution in the forecast authority. The government must beef up equipment and resources.
Seoul must also demand that Beijing provide research and measurements on fine-particle levels in real time. The Seoul city government suggested that Seoul and Beijing share web cameras to communicate information on air quality.
Unlike land, the skies have no boundaries. Without close cooperation among our region’s three members, Korea, China, and Japan can all fall victims to air pollution. Korea and Japan must join forces to demand stronger environmental action and cooperation from China.
But fine-particle pollution is not entirely imported from China.
The level of domestic particles that come from car exhaust and industrial activities is higher than average in advanced societies. Pollutants from motor vehicles need to be further contained. The government plans to come up with a comprehensive plan to improve air quality around the capital in 2015 that would include stronger guidelines on fine-particle matter, pollution forecasts and gas emissions. But it should strongly consider advancing that plan, especially considering the pace of acceleration in air pollution making its way from China.