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Monday, April 8, 2013

Air Pollution: New Measures, Please

Whether North Korea detonates a fourth nuclear device or not, we'll have other fallouts to worry about. Fukushima keeps making the headlines every now and then (lately, a small leak of contaminated water - barely 120 tons), and Korea has had its share of leathal gas incidents over the past few months, but I'm talking even bigger stuff.

In China alone, air pollution killed more than 1.2 million people in 2010. That's five times as much as Hiroshima and Nagasaki combined. And back in 2010, "airpocalypse" was far from last winter's records in Beijing (40 times the levels considered as dangerous by the WHO)...

Everybody is aware of Beijing's alarming pollution, starting with Chinese authorities, who can't contain anymore its economic, political, and social cost. And at this stage, sweeping the data under the rug is not an option: the US Embassy in Beijing are doing and publishing their own measures, which replaced the official statistics as the reference for Chinese netizens. Bonus, the website of the Institute of Public and Environmental Affairs (IPE) does look less sexy than its American rival:

IPE pollution map for Beijing
IPE's website (April 8, 2013)

US Embassy pollution charts for Beijing
US Embassy in Beijing: a pretty good score today (April 8, 2013):

How about Korea?

If significant progresses were made at certain levels, and if the country can blame its giant neighbor for recurrent yellow sand and polluted winds (e. g. 30 to 40% of sulfur and nitrogen oxide pollution comes from China*), a lot remains to be done. And the information is - to say the least - not up to the mark.

We do enjoy a relatively good level of information and alert for major yellow sand episodes...

March 19 @theseoulvillage tweet
Don't bite the dust (my tweet last month with KMA link below -

satellite view of yellow sand on Korea
KMA satellite view of Asian dust (20130408)

... and we do have a lot of sources for the overall quality of air, from the electric signs on major streets in Seoul, to the following sites:

pollution map of Korea
CAPMOS-NIER - National Institute of Environmental Research, Clean Air Policy Modeling System (20130408 -

map: quality of air in Korea
Air Korea (20130408):

map: air quality in Seoul
Clean Air Seoul (20130408):

And we're receiving positive signals:
- The National Institute of Environmental Research (NIER) will improve its Clean Air Policy MOdeling System (CAPMOS)**, and "the ministry plans to introduce a fine particle warning system for Seoul and the metropolitan area in the first half of this year, and the system will be expanded to ultrafine particles next year"*. NB: that's for the most damaging microparticles, the ones that reach the deepest parts of our lungs (Particle Matter under 2.5 microgram).
- Environmental pollution will be more severely fined***

But of course, this accumulation of "measures" shows that there's a sense of emergency. From the start (see "Clean Air @ Seoul"), information websites showed some limits. And "tough penalties" only happen once you've caused three environmental incidents! Imagine the Japanese government telling to TEPCO: "okay, you've been allowed one strike at Fukushima, but two more and you're out"... Wait a sec'... Um, yup, that's exactly what happened... but Korea can do better than that!

Cleaning the air will take time, but transparency will do more good than denial and procrastination, which only make things worse.

Seoul Village 2013
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* "Ultrafine Particle Pollution Reaches Dangerous Levels" - The Chosun Ilbo (20130408)
** "NIER to improve 'Clean Air Policy Modeling System'" - Ministry of Environment (20130405) *** "S. Korea aims to toughen penalties for environmental pollution" - Yonhap News (20130404)

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