Asia Minute: Air Pollution Chokes South Korea

Jan 15, 2019

Air pollution in Seoul | 2005
Credit Craig Nagy / Flickr

It’s already been a bad week for air quality in South Korea — and it’s only Tuesday.

For the third day in a row, emergency measures are in place in the national capital because of pollution, and the problem is also taking a political twist. 

Fine dust particle pollution in Seoul’s air has been dangerously high for several days. On Monday, the average level was nearly five times what’s recommended by the World Health Organization. The dirty air triggered emergency responses that are now part of the law in South Korea.

Thermal power plants cut back operations to 80 percent of their usual output.

Several steps also go into effect to limit vehicles on the road.

The government immediately shuts down more than 400 parking lots at state-run organizations.

Half the cars driven by public officials are off the road — as driving privileges rotate between odd and even license plate numbers.

City officials also closed Seoul’s open-air ice skating rink, and even sent out emergency text messages telling residents to wear masks and “refrain from outdoor activities.”

It’s the first time these emergency measures have been in effect for three days in a row. Seoul’s mayor cited lab research showing “China is more than 50 to 60 percent responsible” for the air pollution — a point that China vigorously disputes.

Seoul
Credit Doug Sun Beams / Flickr

In addition to industrial and vehicular sources, the situation is worsened by weather patterns — including slow winds.

Air pollution has also spiked in recent days in mainland China, India and Thailand.