China's firework displays responsible for South Korea's recent fine dust pollution, says agency

Levels of strontium, barium and sulfate - chemical elements used in fireworks - soared in the air in Seoul, 20 hours after the firework displays in China on Feb 19.
Levels of strontium, barium and sulfate - chemical elements used in fireworks - soared in the air in Seoul, 20 hours after the firework displays in China on Feb 19.PHOTO: AFP

SEOUL (THE KOREA HERALD/ASIA NEWS NETWORK) - China's firework displays during the Lantern Festival and stagnant air over the Korean peninsula are the main culprits for the dangerously high levels of ultra-fine dust pollution in South Korea at the end of February, a Seoul City-run environment agency said on Wednesday (March 6).

"High density of ultra-fine dust continued recently because the weather condition caused air over the Korean peninsula to be stagnant and delayed diffusion of pollutants stemming within the country and from abroad," said Mr Shin Yong-seung of the Research Institute of Public Health and Environment.

The agency traced the chemical elements travelling from China to South Korea on two occasions - from Feb 17 to Feb 23 and from Feb 27 to Tuesday.

Levels of strontium, barium and sulfate - chemical elements used in fireworks and whose size is smaller than 2.5 micrometres in diameter - soared 11.1 times, 4.1 times and 4.6 times, respectively, in the air in Seoul, 20 hours after the firework displays in China on Feb 19.

It took 17 hours to 30 hours for the ultra-fine dust from Beijing and Shenyang to arrive in South Korea between Feb 27 and Sunday.

Air pollution is worsening every year, with the number of days with "bad" levels of ultra-fine dust increasing and the density rising, according to the institute.

The average density of ultra-fine particles - those smaller than 2.5 micrometres in diameter - between January and February worsened from 27 microgrammes per cubic metre in 2015 to 37 microgrammes per cubic metre in 2019.

 
 
 

The number of days with "bad" levels of PM2.5 also increased from 12 in January and February 2015 to 23 in the same period this year.

Chemicals travelling from China could have been cleared with cold winds.

However, the atmosphere has been stagnant on the Korean peninsula due to the lack of wind and warm temperature, and ultra-fine particles continued to flow into the country from overseas, which worsened air pollution in Seoul, according to the institute.

Stagnant air is the result of "climate penalty", Mr Shin said, adding that measures to fight fine dust have to take into account how to mitigate climate change.

More than 70 per cent of the responsibility lay with China when levels of ultra-fine dust were high in South Korea, and about 55 per cent on ordinary days, he added.