Air Pollution at Record Levels as Haze Blows Over from China

      March 22, 2017 11:25

      Seoul was blanketed with toxic haze on Tuesday morning, with air pollution at one point reaching the second worst in the world.

      The density of ultrafine or PM2.5 particles reached over 100 ㎍/㎥ per hour in the capital. The air quality in Seoul has hovered between 51 and 100 ㎍/㎥, or even worse for four days. Skies in most parts of Gyeonggi Province were also obscured by toxic haze all morning.

      Seoul's air quality index at one point reached 179, the second worst in the world after New Delhi, according to AirVisual, a website that measures and compares pollutant levels in major cities around the world.

      A total of 85 ultrafine dust advisories have been issued across the country so far this year, far more than 51 in 2015 and 41 in 2016, according to the National Institute of Environmental Research. Advisories are issued when ultrafine dust levels in the air are higher than 90㎍/㎥ for more than two hours.

      The government started issuing advisories in 2015 to raise awareness of ultrafine dust, which the World Health Organization has classified as a first-degree carcinogen.

      Haze blankets the Seoul skyline on Tuesday. /Yonhap

      Meteorologists blame the weather and the distribution of atmospheric pressure rather than to a sudden increase in pollutants here.

      "It's possible that more fine dust accumulated this year as migratory anticyclones from China have hovered near the Korean Peninsula," said Chang Im-suk at the institute. "Another possible reason is that smog has worsened in China as factories resumed operations in the Beijing area once the annual sessions of the National People's Congress and the Politburo came to a close on March 15."

      Another speculation is that global warming has accelerated high-density fine dust pollution. Air quality has deteriorated across Northeast Asia as Arctic glaciers are melting as a result of global warming, according to analysis of 35-year weather data by Georgia Tech of the U.S. and Yonsei University.

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