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The problem of China-originating fine dust
DECEMBER 05, 2013 08:50  
One can never emphasize too much the importance of air. While an adult eats 2.5 kilograms of food and drinks 2 kilograms of water a day on average, he or she inhales 8,000-9,000 liters of air daily, which equals to over 10 kilograms in weight. Air that comes in and out of a human body through inhalation and exhalation has changed in very minute scales since time immemorial. Though minute, this change has led to big air pollution such as Meuse Valley smog in Belgium in the 1930s, London smog and Los Angeles smog. Worse yet, acid rain and yellow dust are crossing national borders causing damages.

The latest air pollution issue that is putting people at unease is the silent attack of fine dust. The Environment Welfare Forum of Korea recently held a roundtable meeting with the Environment Ministry, Korea Meteorological Administration and related experts on "the current situation and plans for dust wind coming from Baekryeong Island." Detecting the cause of air pollution including fine dust and remedying it is not a simple work. It is difficult to accurately identify pollution emittants and which chemicals among more than 2,000 chemicals in the air affect and how.

Air conditions in Seoul have much improved compared to 10 years ago (Fine dust fell to 41μg/m in 2012 compared to 76μg/m 10 years ago). Distribution of natural gas and air quality measures in the Seoul metropolitan area helped hugely reduce fine dust. Yet it is still higher than large cities in advanced countries, since 19 days saw occurrence of high concentration fine dust this year compared to three days last year.

The latest smogs in Korea are related to fine dust coming from China. Since fine dust concentration peaked in China, concentration has increased in Baekryeong Island and Seoul after certain time, according to analysis. The American Cancer Society said an increase in ultra-fine dust (below PM 2.5) leads to a 7 percent increase in death rate, with respiratory related death rate rising 12 percent.

In response to recent frequent occurrence of smogs, the Korean government introduced fine dust forecast system. However, much has to be improved and complemented due to weakness in sharing, modeling and inventory building of domestic observation data. Even if there is a fine dust forecast, there is little fundamental means to avoid it. Wearing masks cannot be the ultimate solution.

Pollutants absorbed on fine dust are in many cases generated when materials coming from primary pollutants make secondary response to sunlight. This means administrative function has to operate properly to reduce emissions of pollutants. Ahead of introducing new criteria and systems on fine dust, it is necessary to examine and complement existing regulations and incentives, while being accurately aware of the impact of fine dust pollution on health and environment.

There is no mandatory control against fine dust coming from China. Fine dust is a problem that is more severe in China. In response, the Chinese government included environment-friendly policies in its five-year economic plan. It also set up an air pollution prevention action plan and will reduce fine dust in Beijing by 25 percent until 2017. Diplomatic relations should head for a win-win strategy in the environment sector, too. It is important that Korea-China cooperation heads toward setting up a shared vision by respecting each other. To start with, scientists and experts should continue conversation on research and share the will to create solutions, and both governments should actively support such exchanges.

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