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Thursday, August 20, 2009

Clean Air @ Seoul

Well. For a start, "clean air" is the name of the website displaying all data on air quality in Seoul :

How is the capital city doing this morning ? Since rain just cleaned the air, at 9 o'clock and on a scale of 1 (good) to 6 (terrible), Seoul stood at "2" except for Nowon-gu (at "1" - thanks to the mountains), and two gus at "3" (Seodaemun-gu and Yeongdeungpo-gu). Eunpyeong-gu was awarded a "0" for lack of data. Temperature was 24.5, humidity 60%, wind speed .4 m/s, and my personal "maemimeter" indicated 4 (cicadas were rather quiet this morning).

But scales can tell any tale and be easily manipulated. This website also delivers detailed results for certain elements, and here was the composition of our breakfast :
. Nitrogen Dioxide (NOx - NO, NO2) : 0.046 ppm (0.030 in Nowon - 0.066 in Yeongdeungpo)
. Ozone (O3) : 0.005 ppm (0.003 in Seodaemun, Mapo and Yeongdeungpo - 0.021 in Gwanak)
. Carbon Monoxide (CO) : 1.1 ppm (I wonder how Seoul can reach that average : the max is 0.9 and the minimum 0.5 - in Gangbuk and Yangcheon)
. Sulfur dioxide (SO2) : 0.005 ppm (0.001 in Dobong - 0.011 in Geumcheon and Yangcheon)
. Particulate Matter (PM) : 37 μg / m³ (18 in Nowon - 45 in Yangcheon)


Good start, knowing that this kind of tools can always be improved : lead levels are missing, and should be added (even if not on a daily basis) to get a fairer picture of the quality of ambient air... and to put more pressure in favor of change. Giving the mix of Particulate Matter (under 2.5 μm and bewteen 2.5 and 10 μm) could prove also useful.

Raising the level of transparency and public awareness is essential to continue the effort in favor of a really cleaner air. Considerable improvements have been made over the past decade, but much remains to be done.

The gu level gives some indications, but at the micro level, the differences can be much more spectacular : some streets are irrespirable, and too many people live and work in locals saturated with carcigens. Construction material norms have improved, but too new pollutants keep being added to the mix without much monitoring from authorities.

I'm also worried about radio pollution. I'm shocked to see 2G, 3G or WiBro antennas installed carelessly by home windows or even at street level without any security perimeter whatsoever. It's not only very dangerous but strictly forbidden in many countries. It's not a matter of if but when : change must and will come.

Empowering citizens is a sound way of preparing the future : now any Seoulite can measure the effects of weather condition or environment policies, benchmark his city with other countries. In Europe, there's even a website ( to facilitate direct comparisons.

So Seoul City took a good measure, and it would be interesting to do the same for neighboring cities, the way Paris Ile de France region did with : pollution doesn't just come and go, we are all connected. I was surprised to learn that a major forest near Paris was more polluted than the city center because its landscape trapped pollutants more effectively.

Seoul Village 2009

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