Korean Activist Group Sues Chinese Government Over Yellow Dust Air Pollution

The yellow dust this year in South Korea is as bad as I can remember it ever being and it seems Korean citizens are beginning to take action to do something about it:

Mask-wearing protestors demand the Korean government to come up with measures to reduce air pollution in a rally held in central Seoul on April 2. (Yonhap)

Many believe that while South Korea has had its own air problem, the recent sharp deterioration is mainly due to China, the world’s biggest polluter.

This belief has led to the first civil lawsuit filed by South Korean citizens against the governments of both Korea and China.

Choi Yul, an environmental activist and president of the Korea Green Foundation, and attorney Ahn Kyung-jae filed the suit Wednesday with the Seoul Central District Court, seeking 3 million won ($2,650) each in compensation.

The data on how much of the airborne pollutants in Korea are from China is not seen as reliable.

The Comprehensive Plan on Fine Particulate Matter compiled by several government bodies put the figure at 30-50 percent.

Such figures are estimated using data from Baengnyeongdo, a remote western island.

However, a report from the Munhwa Ilbo uncovered that the decimal point on the published data data collected at Baengnyeongdo over the past two years had been put in the wrong place giving much lower readings than was the case. Officials say they used the correct data in their calculations, and had therefore not underestimated China’s influence,  but are coy about releasing the data.

A study leaked from the Ministry of Environment estimated that 86 percent of ultrafine dust particles in Seoul and its surrounding cities on March 21, when the entire country was choked with high dust concentrations, was of Chinese origin.

The ministry confirmed that figure, but has been reluctant to reveal more data on the China factor, claiming a significant portion of the pollutants originate here.  [Korea Herald]

You can read more at the link, but the Seoul city government did recently release statistics that showed 55% of the air pollution in Seoul was coming from China.  The ROK can take measures to reduce pollution domestically, but ultimately it will not matter until they get the Chinese government to do something on their end.  Good luck with that.

China Causes Approximately 55% of Seoul’s Air Pollution

It has seemed to me that the yellow dust pollution from China has gotten worse every year and this study now confirms that it in fact has:

Seoul’s government is trying its best to counter the gunk in the city’s air.

But it admitted Thursday that sources of pollution from outside Korea, including fine particle pollution from China, have increased in the past few years.

“According to our research conducted in 2011 and 2016, Seoul’s contribution to pollution grew from 21 percent in 2011 to 22 percent in 2016,” said Hwang Bo-yeon, head of the Climate and Environment Headquarters of the Seoul Metropolitan Government. “But the contribution to air pollution by international factors, including fine dust from China, grew from 49 percent to 55 percent in the same period.

“The city will do all it can, including increasing city-to-city meetings with Beijing to address the problem together.”  [Joong Ang Ilbo]

You can read more at the link.

Worsening Yellow Dust Causes Surge in Home Air Purifiers in Korea

The yellow dust is getting so bad in Korea that in the future everyone may need these air purifiers in their homes as a must have appliance:

The ever-dirtier air in Korea has sparked consumer interest in air purifiers for the home and local electronics companies are cranking out new models, including ones that use the Internet of Things technology.

The number of air purifiers sold last year was one million units compared to 900,000 in 2015 and 500,000 in 2014. In money terms, sales of air purifiers amounted to 1 trillion won ($894.2 million) last year – which may grow to 1.5 trillion won this year, according to industry insiders.

Discount chain E-Mart reported a 60.8 percent increase year on year in air purifier sales between March 1 and 23. Electronics retailers Lotte Hi-Mart said its air purifier sales rose 30 percent year on year from March 1 through 22.

“With the influx of Chinese smog and lack of rain, the number of days with excessive fine dust was particularly high this year,” said Cho Yong-wook, E-Mart’s buyer for electronics. “As a consequence, we’re seeing a sharp increase in customers shopping for air purifiers.”  [Joong Ang Ilbo]

You can read more at the link.

Studies Says Yellow Dust Kills Over 30,000 People Every Year in Korea and Japan

The yellow dust this year has been absolutely horrible in Korea and it seems to get worse every year:

Image from the Korea Herald.

Korean consumers’ concern about fine dust, which is believed to come from China, seems to be legitimate as confirmed by a report published Thursday in the peer-reviewed international journal Nature.

About 30,900 people in Korea and Japan die prematurely every year due to fine dust from China, according to the study jointly conducted by researchers in China’s Tsinghua and Peking universities, the University of British Columbia and the University of California, Irvine.

Analyzing the number of early deaths from heart, lung and blood vessel-related diseases and the density and movement of fine dust, the researchers found out that 411,100 people worldwide died prematurely due to fine dust from outside their countries.

The researchers especially pointed out that China, as the largest producer of fine dust particles, causes the greatest number of deaths because of the high population density of itself and its neighbors.

“It costs less to manufacture goods in places like China and Southeast Asia, mostly because those places have cheaper labor than the West,” Steven Davis, co-author of the paper, said. “But they also tend to have less stringent environmental protections.”  [Korea Times]

You can read more at the link.

NASA Scientists Conduct Air Pollution Study Over Seoul

It should be interesting to see what comes out of this study from NASA where they are trying to determine how much of the pollution over Seoul is produced domestically compared to what blows in from China:

 The cockpit warning blared insistently as the plane spiraled downward to 500 feet above Seoul: “Too low, too low, terrain. Pull up, pull up, pull up.”

The pilots ignored the automated voice despite a nervous glance from a visiting reporter. Their mission was to take the DC-8 as low or as high as the NASA scientists working in the back required.

The flight was part of a six-week joint Korea-U.S. air-quality field study — known as KORUS-AQ — which officially kicked off on April 29. The timing coincided with the so-called yellow dust season that sees fine particulate matter swept into the air from neighboring China’s Gobi Desert.  [Stars & Stripes]

You can read more at the above link as well as more about Korea’s yellow dust problem at this link.

Greenpeace Blames South Korea for Air Pollution

Not that Greenpeace has much creditability, but they are primarily blaming South Korea for air pollution over the peninsula instead of China:

korea china flags image

Greenpeace challenged a common perception among Koreans that most air pollution comes from China, Wednesday, claiming that Korea is responsible for more than half of its particle-laden smog.

“Despite what is widely reported through the Korean media, from 50 to 70 percent of particle-laden smog, which is also known as PM2.5, is generated within the country,” the environmental group said at a press conference in Seoul.

“Yet the Korean government irresponsibly passes the blame on to China without having any strategies to tackle the problem itself.”

Greenpeace claim that the government has little understanding of PM2.5, which results in policies that will continue to increase pollution.

Greenpeace said that among all sources of air pollution, the nation’s 53 coal power plants should be identified for action

“But the government plans to build 13 more coal plants by 2021, while 11 are under construction,” Greenpeace said. “We wonder why the government remains passive in developing renewable energy sources.”

Greenpeace states that Korea relies on coal plants for 39 percent of its energy production and is the fourth biggest coal importer in the world.  [Korea Times]

You can read more at the link, but if they are talking every day air pollution then of course South Korea is primarily responsible.  However, if they are trying to infer that the yellow dust is primarily caused by South Korea than that is deceptive.  Most of the health problems from air pollution happen in Korea because of the seasonal yellow dust that indisputably comes from China.

South Korea Engulfed in Yellow Dust, Where Does It Come From?

There is a lot of things to like about living in South Korea, but the yellow dust has to be one of the worst aspects of living on the peninsula:

Image from the Korea Herald.

The worst winter seasonal yellow dust in five years blanketed the Korean Peninsula on Monday, prompting the authorities to issue health warnings against the sandy, chemical-laden wind from China.

According to the Korea Meteorological Administration (KMA), yellow dust warnings were issued at 10 a.m. in Incheon, Seoul, Gyeonggi Province and part of Gangwon Province with dust advisories in place for most other parts of the peninsula except some southeastern cities, including Busan and Ulsan.

The dust warnings in the capital area were to be lowered to advisories at 4 p.m. as the number of fine dust particles gradually decreased.

A yellow dust advisory is issued when an hourly average dust concentration of more than 400 micrograms per cubic meter is expected to last for more than two hours. More than 800 micrograms leads to a yellow dust warning.

People are advised to stay indoors when yellow dust advisories or warnings are in place. When going outside, they are advised to wear protective glasses and yellow-dust masks.

As of 4 a.m., Seoul’s atmospheric concentration levels of “particulate matter (PM)-10” pollutants soared to 1,044 micrograms per cubic meter. This marks the worst yellow dust that has hit the peninsula during a winter season since Dec. 25, 2009, when the level recorded 963 micrograms.  [Yonhap]

I have always wondered how much of an effect on weather patterns that the yellow dust has in the region and there are actually scientists trying to figure that out.  In fact these scientists think the increase in yellow dust could be responsible for up to 80% of global warming.  Here is a map with satellite measurements of the yellow dust reaching the US:

For those that don’t know the yellow dust gets blown in from the Gobi desert where overgrazing of grassland is turning large areas of it into desert.  To make matters worse a lot of industrial pollutants from China’s factories are dumped in the desert and contribute to the amount of air pollutants that get blown over neighboring countries.  This is a provable man-made environmental catastrophe which little is done about.