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Gov’t sets goals for reducing PM 2.5 fine-dust pollution

Sept 27,2017
The Moon Jae-in government Tuesday laid out an ambitious road map to improve Korea’s air quality, declaring it will reduce emissions of fine dust pollutants by 30 percent by 2022.

The government said it will decrease the number of days when air quality is rated “bad” from 258 last year to 78 annually.

Air quality is rated bad when fine dust particles smaller than 2.5 micrometers in diameter, or PM 2.5, exceed 50 micrograms per cubic meter of air. In 2016, there were 258 days when the fine dust level surpassed 50 micrograms per cubic meter, forcing many to avoid outdoors activity or wear face masks.

The initiatives declared Tuesday included shutting seven thermal power plants that have been running for more than 30 years by the end of 2022, when President Moon’s term ends. To reduce pollutants emitted by aged power plants during the spring, the worst fine-dust season, the government decided to temporarily shut down five old plants between March and June every year from 2018.

That is a follow-up measure to a suspension of eight power plants that have operated for 30 or more years last June after the country suffered from record highs of fine dust levels in early May. For the first five months of this year, alerts for bad air were issued 92 times, up from 66 times during the same period a year earlier.

The average concentration of PM 2.5 levels nationwide last year was 26 micrograms, according to the government Tuesday, nearly twice Tokyo’s 13.8 micrograms and London’s 11 micrograms.

The government is also pushing to change energy sources for four thermal power plants with low power generation capacity to environment friendly LNG. It wants to rid the country of 77 percent of its diesel-run vehicles manufactured prior to 2005 during the remainder of President Moon’s term, which ends in 2022. There are an estimated 2.86 million such vehicles on the roads.

For Seoul and Gyeonggi, diesel-run vehicles accounted for 23 percent of total air pollutants in 2014, the top position, followed by construction machinery at 16 percent, according to the government. Emissions from industrial sites accounted for 14 percent of the total.

On the national level, the No.1 source of air pollutants was industrial sites, responsible for 38 percent of the total. Emissions from construction machinery accounted for 16 percent while power plants accounted for 15 percent of the total in 2014.

The government said it will expand cooperation with Beijing on reducing air pollutants there and try to adopt the air quality issue as an official subject for discussion at summit meetings in the future.

The government estimates that up to 50 percent of air pollutants come from outside the country, mainly from China but even from North Korea.

In joint research conducted in May and June of last year with NASA on the source of air pollutants in the country, 52 percent of the total emissions were found to have been produced locally while 48 percent were attributed to external factors.


BY KANG JIN-KYU [kang.jinkyu@joongang.co.kr]