|Fine dust has filled up the sky in Seoul, Tuesday. / Yonhap|
By Kim Jae-heun
Korea is suffering deadly levels of fine dust in the air caused by various external factors including particulate matter and smog coming from China as well as domestically produced pollution.
While this used to be an environmental hazard mainly in the spring, now it is becoming an issue in winter as well, with people facing cold and dust days. And according to the Korea Meteorological Administration (KMA), the situation is likely to become worse this winter
Continental high pressure, or an anticyclone, over China and Mongolia generally creates cold winds that carry away air pollutants; thus the level of fine dust drops during winter. But the KMA expects the continental anticyclone to be weak this winter and average temperatures to be higher than usual bringing about the opposite effect.
Another environmental factor is the strong El Nino tidal phenomenon that will weaken seasonal winds blowing toward the Korean Peninsula and result in a buildup of airborne pollutants.
"The weakening of high atmospheric pressure causes weakening of the jet stream, which may result in airflow congestion. And the El Nino abates atmospheric flow in Northeast Asia. They may be the reason for fine dust to stay in the country due to poor circulation of atmospheric flows this winter," said Jang Im-suk, the head of the Air Quality Forecasting Center at the National Institute of Environmental Research.
The dust issue is especially serious as it causes various health problems and hampers outdoor activities.
People can be seen wearing masks everywhere, while schools are halting outdoor physical activities. Hospitals are also seeing a growing number of patients with respiratory problems.
Although fine dust has long been an issue here, the government is still struggling to come up with effective countermeasures.
Environment Minister Cho Myung-rae said Monday that the country should stop just blaming air pollution on China but take action to fight it.
"We can say the high concentration of the fine dust attacking Korea is a national disaster and this is an urgent problem. We have no time to argue over where the class-one carcinogens come from and what is the cause," the minister said.
"We need to take quick action as individuals. It is right that the government's job is to protect its people, but we should not just leave the matter to the administration."
According to research by the ministry, 52 percent of the fine dust comes from external factors; but more needs to be done to find the exact amount contributed by China.
Current fine dust levels nationwide are expected to be high for a couple of more days.