Gov’t to ban old diesel cars in Seoul for four months

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Gov’t to ban old diesel cars in Seoul for four months

The government intends to ban old diesel-fueled cars in Seoul, Incheon and Gyeonggi from December to March, if amendments proposed at the National Assembly are passed in time.

“We intend to ban highly polluting cars in Seoul and surrounding areas from December into March,” said Minister of Environment Cho Myung-rae at a press conference at the Central Government Complex in central Seoul on Friday. “But to apply the ban in Seoul and surrounding areas, we will have to pass an amendment - which we intend to do within December.”

Korea has banned highly polluting cars including old diesel-fueled cars in Seoul, Incheon and Gyeonggi before, but only temporarily and on severely polluted days.

If the amendment is passed, it will be the first time that heavily polluting vehicles are banned from the roads for a prolonged period of time. The idea was first proposed by the National Council on Climate and Air Quality (NCCA) headed by former United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon in September.

If enacted, the measure will ban up to 2.23 million highly polluting cars in all of Korea off the roads in Seoul, Incheon and Gyeonggi from December to March, with the exception that old diesel-fueled vehicles that are used for commercial purposes will not be banned.

“They were not included on the list of vehicles to be banned from the road because they are directly related to the economic livelihood of the people,” an official of the ministry told the JoongAng Ilbo. “The NCCA agreed on this point.”

The number of old diesel-fueled vehicles used by businesses in Seoul number around 18,000 as of December 2018, which is 6.5 percent of all old diesel-fueled cars in the city, according to Seoul Metropolitan Council.

The measure was part of a set of regulations announced by the ministry Friday to reduce fine-dust levels in Korea from December to March, when the air pollution is more severe than other times of the year.

Korea is hit with yellow dust from the Gobi Desert every winter and spring, which combines with emissions from factories in the northeastern coastal areas of China and local sources such as coal power plants and vehicle emissions. The problem gets worse every year. The fine dust levels hit another high in the past weekend.

“The level of fine dust spiked due to fine dust particles traveling in from outside of the country,” said the National Institute of Environmental Research, run by the Environment Ministry, on its website on Friday. “The level is expected to remain high into Saturday due to stagnant air.”

The highest levels of PM2.5 recorded daily in Seoul were 70 micrograms in Seocho District, southern Seoul, on Friday; 77 micrograms in Guro District, western Seoul, on Saturday; and 76 micrograms in Gangseo District, western Seoul, on Sunday, according to the national weather agency.

PM2.5, or dust particles with diameters less than 2.5 micrometers, is carcinogenic as they can travel through the respiratory tract into the bloodstream and cause strokes, heart disease or lung cancer, according to the World Health Organization. It recommends exposure of no more than a daily average of 25 micrograms of PM2.5.

In addition to the vehicle ban, the Environment Ministry said it will also try to shut down more coal power plants from December to March.

“We have shut down four coal power plants during the past spring when the fine dust level spiked, but we are reviewing a plan to shut down up to 27 plants from December to March,” Cho said. “We will be supporting more day care centers, kindergartens and schools to install air purification systems.”

Cho said the ultimate objective is to reduce the annual average level of PM2.5, which was 26 micrograms in 2016, to less than 16 micrograms by 2024. The government intends to spend 20 trillion won ($17.2 billion) through 2024 for fine-dust reduction measures. Cho added that there will be cooperation with China on the fine dust issue, though he did not specify the details. In response to a reporter’s question during the press briefing about whether there will be any legislative movements to apply similar fine-dust reduction measures outside of Seoul, Incheon and Gyeonggi, Cho said these areas were not ready.

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