Choking fine dust envelops South Korea for fifth straight day

A pedestrian crosses an overpass through cloudy air from thick fine dust in Seoul, South Korea, on Jan 15, 2019. Emergency measures were in effect to minimise air pollution as the country combats dense haze.
A pedestrian crosses an overpass through cloudy air from thick fine dust in Seoul, South Korea, on Jan 15, 2019. Emergency measures were in effect to minimise air pollution as the country combats dense haze. PHOTO: EPA-EFE

SEOUL - South Koreans began Tuesday (Jan 15) much in the same way they had for the past four days - suffocating - as thick fine dust continued to blanket most of the country for the fifth consecutive day, Yonhap news agency reported.

The ultra-fine dust level of the Seodaemun district in western Seoul stood at 153 micrograms per cubic meter as of 8am, far eclipsing the 76-microgram level considered "very bad".

Most of the other areas in central regions recorded high levels of the dust particles, which are a class-one carcinogen, the report said, citing the weather agency. They included Wonju, a city in the north-western Gangwon province, with 171 micrograms of ultra-fine dust, and Cheongju in the central North Chungcheong province with, 162.

The weather authorities predicted the dust levels to stay high across the nation for most of the day.

Seoul had logged a record high level of ultra-fine dust on Monday, with the daily average level surging to 118 micrograms, the highest figure since the government began tracking related data in 2015.

Local governments in 10 major metropolitan cities and provinces on Tuesday maintained emergency measures to bring the dust levels down, limiting vehicles on the road and output at key public emissions facilities.

Residents sported masks and walked briskly on streets during rush hour.

"The air is so murky and my throat hurts that I even feel depressed," said a resident interviewed by Yonhap. "It's as if there is a really thick fog."

A restaurant owner said: "We had about only half the number of customers (yesterday). People don't want to go far for lunch and everyone's going home right after work."

South Koreans believe a huge portion of the fine dust comes from industrial areas in China, though there is no scientific research that could measure how much China contributes to the air pollution in South Korea.

The dust pollution will remain high until cold winds from the north bring down the temperature and clear the air, the Korea Meteorological Administration has said.