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Pollution in South Korea poses increasing health threats

Industrial pollution from China is the most toxic, followed by emissions from coal-fired power plants in South Korea.

By
Elizabeth Shim
Smog is increasingly a frequent occurrence in Seoul, South Korea. Pollution from China and coal-fired power plants are creating a hazard for South Koreans. Photo by YTN/Yonhap
Smog is increasingly a frequent occurrence in Seoul, South Korea. Pollution from China and coal-fired power plants are creating a hazard for South Koreans. Photo by YTN/Yonhap

SEOUL, March 23 (UPI) -- Airborne dust containing lead and arsenic from China and pollution from coal-firing plants in South Korea are aggravating the quality of air in Seoul.

The Korea Herald reported Monday the increase in ultrafine dust creates thick smog that obstructs views of Seoul's Han River. Residents of Seoul must don protective masks whenever a dust advisory goes into effect in a city that in 2012 had an average of 25.2 micrograms per cubic meter of ultrafine dust -- double the level deemed safe by the World Health Organization.

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Yellow dust, which travels hundreds of miles from the deserts of southern Mongolia and China, is the most toxic form of pollution, reported South Korean news network KBS. It contributes up to 50 percent of pollution in Seoul according to 2013 statistics.

The desert dust collects industrial pollution when it blows in from Beijing into the Korean peninsula and lead, cadmium and arsenic are some of the chemicals that are incorporated into the atmosphere, South Korea's National Institute of Environmental Research told KBS.

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The remainder of the dust affecting air quality arises from coal-fired power plants in South Korea, which emit nitrogen and sulfur oxides. These chemicals turn into secondary particles that contribute to ultrafine dust. The dust, according to a research institute in Seoul, can enter the bloodstream as well as the lungs.

Seoul has seen a rise in dust advisories, also known as warnings against toxic levels of pollution, that pose a serious threat to public health.

The Korea Herald reported pollution-related deaths could rise to 2,800 by 2021 if more pollution from coal-powered facilities continues.

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