Dozens of South Koreans sue Seoul, Beijing governments over fine dust

Chinese capital Beijing is regularly smothered in smog and the country is now being sued by dozens of South Koreans over harmful fine dust particles originating from it. PHOTO: REUTERS
Chinese capital Beijing is regularly smothered in smog and the country is now being sued by dozens of South Koreans over harmful fine dust particles originating from it. PHOTO: REUTERS

Dozens of South Koreans have banded together to sue the governments of Seoul and Beijing for the mental distress they suffered due to fine dust pollution, reported Yonhap News Agency on Wednesday (May 24).

A group of 10 plaintiffs, representing 81 others, filed the case with the Seoul Central District Court, seeking 3 million won (S$3,700) in compensation each.

The group includes Choi Yul, president of the Korea Green Foundation, and attorney Ahn Kyung Jae.

Both individuals filed a similar case, earlier in April with five other participants, which was later dropped. But a new suit was filed as more people wanted in on the legal action, the duo said.

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The case comes amid South Korea's ongoing struggle with worsening air quality, as clouds of fine dust particles smother the sky with a yellow haze.

Believed to have come from the western deserts of China as well as domestic smog, the particles are blamed for affecting both the respiratory and immune systems.

A Seoul Institute study concluded that fine dust pollution originating from beyond South Korea's borders increased from 49 to 55 per cent between 2008 and 2013, Yonhap News Agency reported in April.

The Korea Times reported in March that a scientific paper published in renowned international journal Nature estimated that more than 30,000 South Koreans die prematurely each year due to fine dust from China.

In their petition to the court, the plaintiffs said: "The fine dust level in South Korea in March and April 2017 surpassed the acceptable level.

"Many people are exposed to serious danger due to various kinds of respiratory diseases and deterioration of immunity.

"As a member of the international community, China has the obligation to control pollutants at an acceptable level."

The plaintiffs also said that Seoul was liable for failing to determine the exact cause of the fine dust.

"The purpose of this suit is to find out the cause of fine dust and to set a milestone for the two countries to lead Asia in the new era based on mutual efforts."