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South Korea issues particle pollution warnings

Sales of air purifiers, masks grow with rising pollution levels

By Wooyoung Lee
South Korea issues particle pollution warnings
The air is cloudy from thick fine dust as a pedestrian crosses an overpass in Seoul on Jan. 15, 2019. Emergency measures were in effect for the third consecutive day to minimize air pollution as the country combats dense haze. Photo by Yonhap

SEOUL, Jan. 14 (UPI) -- South Korea has issued dust particle warnings in some parts of the country as the concentration level of microdust particles has hit a record high.

On Monday, the average concentration level of microfine dust particles PM 2.5 across Seoul was recorded at 118 micrograms per cubic meter (㎍/㎥), the highest ever since the Environment Ministry started monitoring microfine dust particles in the air in 2015, according to the National Institute of Environmental Research.

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A central part of Seoul has seen the microfine dust particle 2.5 level at 153 ㎍/㎥ on Tuesday morning, higher than "very bad" level of 75 ㎍/㎥.

Environment authorities said the level of fine dust particles in the air has exceeded 50 ㎍/㎥ or 75 ㎍/㎥ across the country. The South Korean government issued the particle pollution alert as the density of microdust particles PM 2.5 in the air continues to exceed the minimum limit of 50 ㎍/㎥ for two days.

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As the air quality has worsened, the Environment Ministry has prohibited some 320,000 old diesel trucks that weigh more than 2.5 tons and run for more than 13 years in the city area. Parking lots at public institutions are closed and construction sites are advised to cut working hours.

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Air pollution has been a pressing environmental concern in South Korea recently due to increasingly higher levels of fine dust particles PM10 and microfine dust particles PM 2.5 in the air.

The particle pollution has been typically higher during the colder season due to slow air circulation within the Korean Peninsula, along with fine dust particles carried by the wind from Chinese industrial cities, according to a report by the National Institute of Environmental Research in February last year.

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Both Chinese and domestic air pollutants easily build up and remain in the lower atmosphere of the Korean Peninsula, according to a report by the Journal of Environmental Studies on Particulate Matter.

Beijing has also seen a high level of air pollution last weekend.

The air quality of the Chinese capital was rated "serious pollution," the highest of the six levels of air pollution with the microfine dust particle PM 2.5 concentration well over 500 ㎍/㎥ in some parts of the city, according to the Beijing Municipal Environmental Monitoring Center, Yonhap News reported.

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PM 2.5 is defined as particulate matter that measures smaller than 2.5 micrometers. The average human hair is about 70 micrometers in diameter, according to the United States Environmental Protection Agency.

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South Koreans are rushing to purchase air purifiers and masks designed to block out particle pollution.

A South Korean air pollution mask retailer has seen the sales of masks jump 40 times on Monday compared to last week.

"As the level of microfine dust particles worsened for the past few days, we have seen the sales of our masks surge greatly," said a sales manager Kim Jung-in of the mask retailer PestSeven7.

According to an online retailer GMarket, the sales of air purifier increased by 53 percent in December and another online retailer 11 Street saw orders for air purifier jump by 102 percent for the past few days compared to last week, according to Aju Business.

"My eyes are sore, and I have a runny nose because of the microfine dust particles," said David Jang, a 30-year-old office worker in Seoul. "My colleagues experience a sore throat, itchy skin and some have cold symptoms."

"When the air pollution is as bad as this, the government should declare a state of disaster," he said.

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