“I’m afraid of going out because of fine dust.” On the day after seven consecutive emergency fine dust reduction measures were issued, a KNUE student said with a mask. Gray sky and a string of disaster warning texts show that fine dust has become a part of daily life. The fine dust threatening the health of many people has been designated as a Class one carcinogen by the WHO. The size of fine particles is very small, about one-fifth to one-seventh the thickness of a person's hair, and particles penetrate into bodies without being filtered out of noses, mouth, and trachea.
Fine dust has been a problem every year. However, why has it gotten so much worse these days? In a series of recent ultrafine dust air strikes, on March 6, the Seoul Research Institute of Public Health and Environment announced the causes of high-concentration ultrafine dust.
First, high-concentration fine dust in the atmosphere is the result of the current worst weather conditions in Korea. The precipitation days, which help laying the dust, were the least in nearly five years, and wind speeds affecting pollutants spread were at their lowest of 1.8 m/s in the last five years. When cold continental high pressure comes down to Korea, the temperature drops and the wind blows more, but it didn’t happen last winter.
Secondly, the inflow of air pollutants from China was blamed. There was a huge fireworks display on the Lantern Festival (February 19) in Beijing. Twenty hours later, the concentration of the burning oxides of firecrackers rose up to eleven times higher than the previous concentration in Seoul. In addition, when analyzing Seoul and Beijing’s fine dust high concentration peak, the peak of Seoul appeared 20 hours and 12 hours after that of Beijing appeared in February and early March. Through this, the institute reported that pollutants from China are affecting the Seoul area.
Fine dust has had a lot of influence on the lives of the people. It definitely affects people’s health and even the economy. Especially, the consumption trend has changed a lot. The number of offline shoppers declined as the floating population decreased. In particular, street stores suffer huge financial damage as there are less air circulation facilities, whereas online transactions surged. It rose 17.9 percent in January compared to the same month last year, the largest ever, according to Statistics Korea. Moreover, sales of anti-pollution appliances such as masks and air purifiers have skyrocketed. Coway and SK Magic said sales of air purifiers rose 2.6 times and 3.9 times this month from last year. Fine dust has affected not only consumption but also corporate production activities. It causes flight cancellations and increases gas cleaning costs in aviation-related industries. Semiconductor and display products also suffered heavy economic losses to the manufacturing sector as exposure to fine dust increases the defect rate.
The government and local governments are working on various measures. The government conducted an artificial rainfall test. It is a method by which clouds force water vapor to condense water by adding artificial substances such as iodine silver. However, the test conducted on February 25 ended in failure as there was no significant precipitation. Although it has been successful, the effectiveness of man-made rainfall is a problem. Fine dust is usually a problem on sunny days, but artificial rainfall can only be made on cloudy days. It means the days when fine dust is high and those when artificial rain can be made do not coincide. In addition, at least 10mm/h of rain must be brought down for more than two hours to reduce fine dust. However, even the best artificial rainfall technology produces only about 1 mm/h of rain.
Despite the failure, the government tried to take immediate effect of reducing fine dust by implementing emergency measures, such as adjusting working hours at construction sites and limiting car operation. Moreover, a special law on fine dust has been enacted when the average concentration of ultrafine dust is expected to exceed 50μg/ for two consecutive days.
Special Act on the Reduction and Management of Fine Dust
( Special law on fine dust )
-In effect from February 15, 2019-
>Reinforcement of dedicated organization such as fine dust control tower
>Restrictions on the operation of cars based on the emission rating system in case of high-concentration fine dust emergency reduction measures
>Adjusting the operation of the air pollutant emission facility in case of high-concentration fine dust emergency reduction measures
>Advising that schools be closed, classes are shortened, etc.
>Expanding the scope and support of the vulnerable class of fine dust
(Source: Republic of Korea Policy Brief)
The enforcement of the special fine dust law has provided grounds for stronger reduction measures to be implemented across the country than before. However, specific implementation plans of the Act such as the vehicles subject to it were to be set as ordinances of local autonomous bodies. The problem is that the special law will be virtually useless unless the ordinance is enacted especially in the Seoul area, which has the largest population and vehicles.
In addition, the Foreign Ministry will propose a joint forecast system for China at a time when there is criticism that China is the main culprit behind Korea's fine dust. The ministry also said it will flesh out the agreement reached by a joint South Korea-China environmental cooperation committee in January. The agreement is △Exchanging the information and technology of air quality forecast △Expanding the scope of areas subject to joint air quality research in China, etc. However, the Chinese government does not acknowledge that Korea's fine dust is from China. Actually, identifying the exact cause of fine dust is difficult so it is hard to respond to them.
Now that fine dust is a big problem in the nation, a variety of measures have been pouring out, but there have been no measures that show great effectiveness. Moreover, the Korean government needs to work with the Chinese government, but an agreement hasn’t been reached in their talks so far and the two countries' positions on fine dust factors in South Korea are also in disagreement. In this situation, it might be time for the government to support for fine dust research and makes diplomatic efforts to solve the problem of fine dust, a problem at the international level, not just domestic
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