Wake up, ministry!

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Wake up, ministry!

A heavy blanket of haze over the weekend kept people indoors, and the three-day streak of particle pollution has posed a serious threat to public health.

Fine particles contain microscopic solids or liquid droplets that can penetrate deep into the lungs and cause serious health problems. The average concentration of fine particle matter surpassed 150 micrograms per cubic meter for more than two hours, triggering a government warning. The unwanted visit will likely be repeated in the days to come.

The World Health Organization has warned that air pollution can lead to chronic diseases and are becoming primary causes of death around the world. This is why countries worldwide are doing everything they can to contain air pollution on roads by limiting diesel vehicles from entering major cities.

But the laziness of Korea’s environmental authority has been outrageous. Not only was its forecast only 62 percent accurate, it issued wrong air measurements for three straight days. The “moderate” concentration level that the Korea Environment Corporation under the Ministry of Environment assessed Friday morning shot up to the “concerning” level in just four hours. Over the weekend, when people were out mostly to enjoy the warm weather and check out the cherry blossoms in bloom, it advised that the level was “bad” when it actually had been the peak level of “very bad.”

After the public outcry, the ministry said it lacked manpower, equipment and budget. There are just 12 forecasters getting little help from the Korea Meteorological Administration.

Environment Minister Yoon Seong-kyu is the longest-serving member of the cabinet under President Park Geun-hye, but he still doesn’t have any authority to secure enough money to have sufficient manpower?

Yoon must prove his worthiness by strengthening cooperation on containing air pollution with China and advancing air forecasting. The government also should review road regulations, as the number of vehicles running on diesel fuel surged to 8.62 million last year from 5.65 million in 2005.

We have all become disillusioned by so-called clean diesel following the Volkswagen emissions-rigging scandal. Public health is too valuable to be handled with this little care.

JoongAng Ilbo, April 11, Page 30
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