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Dust from China clogs the air

Emergency measures go into effect in Seoul and surrounding areas
Dec 11,2019
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Left: The sky over Daegu on Tuesday is saturated with fine dust. The Daegu city government issued a fine dust advisory as of 1 p.m. on Tuesday. Right: The sky over Daegu on Monday was much clearer. [YONHAP]
Fine dust emergency reduction measures went into effect Tuesday in Seoul, Incheon, Gyeonggi and North Chungcheong for the first time this winter as ultrafine air pollution swept through those regions, turning the skies filthy.

Winds blowing smog from China were the main cause of Korea’s dusty air this week. Skies are expected to clear from Thursday.

Under the emergency reduction measures, the Ministry of Environment banned the use of Grade 5 emission vehicles in Seoul from 6 a.m. to 9 p.m., and violators faced fines of 100,000 won ($84).

The government has classified 2.69 million vehicles out of 23 million vehicles registered in the nation as Grade 5 emission vehicles. They are mostly diesel cars.

In Incheon, Gyeonggi and North Chungcheong, an alternate-day driving ban was implemented Tuesday for vehicles operated by public officials. Only vehicles with even-numbered license plates were allowed on the roads.

Under the government’s alternate-day driving ban system, on dates that end in odd numbers, vehicles with license plates ending in odd numbers can drive, while license plates ending in even numbers are banned. On even-numbered days, like yesterday, the reverse is true.

Overall, ultrafine dust concentrations surged to “very bad” levels in Seoul, Incheon, Gyeonggi and North Chungcheong Tuesday, and to “bad” levels in most other parts of the country, except the southernmost regions and Jeju Island, where the air quality was classified as “normal.”

The Korean government’s air quality system has four different levels, from “good” to very bad.

The air quality of an area is considered good when the PM2.5 level, or fine dust particles smaller than 2.5 micrometers in diameter, is between 0 and 15; normal when the PM2.5 is between 16 and 35; bad when it’s between 36 and 75; and very bad when it’s 76 or more.

According to the website Air Korea, run by the Korea Environment Corporation, ultrafine dust will remain at high levels in most parts of the country until today, due largely to a steady influx of dust particles from China.

In the late afternoon today, strong and fast northwesterly winds are expected to flow over the peninsula, an official from the environment corporation said Tuesday, dispersing accumulated fine dust particles. On Thursday, the skies will likely clear as temperatures fall.

To better tackle fine dust, the Environment Ministry announced Tuesday that the government was planned to make an announcement of revisions to a law related to protecting air quality today and canvass public opinion for 40 days through Jan. 20.

Under the revisions, more factories known for emitting high levels of air pollutants will be forced to report their emissions to the government using a tracking system so environment authorities can make sure they’re within legal levels.

The law also gives heavier punishments to business owners who try to tweak numbers on reports to make it appear they emitted less than they actually did.

BY LEE SUNG-EUN, YONHAP [lee.sungeun@joongang.co.kr]