Saturday, March 21, 2009

Asian Dust & Air Quality in Korea

I got this link from a friend on my Facebook about the "Asian Dust" phenomenon. Microscopic particles blow out into the Pacific from the deserts in China and Mongolia. Climate change and the resulting desertification however, continue to exacerbate and worsen the problem. More dust is carried more often, with fewer forests to block or alleviate it. The drying and disappearance of the Aral Sea due to Soviet agricultural projects also contributed greatly to the problem.

Not only climate change, China's increasing industrialization and deforestation are bringing in dangerous metals and pollutants As more Middle Kingdom factories spew forth toxic goodies like sulfur, mercury, zinc, and arsenic Asian dust becomes even more of a concern. Mmmm, delicious.

The governments of Korea and Japan, affected the most by the phenomenon, try to assist and put some gentle pressure on the Chinese government to try and do something about the problem. Korea donated hundreds of thousands of trees for reforestation efforts in China while Japan has donated equipment and expertise for sulfur filters on Chinese power plants. Unfortunately these efforts have been too little. Despite the Chinese government's efforts at reforestation, the problem remains and appears to be worsening.

While I've never seen a proper Asian dust storm, there were a couple of days I've seen a general haziness and wondered if this was at least partly the cause, in addition to the smog and ozone problems usually associated with a big city.

But Asian dust doesn't appear nearly so terrible or nearly so often as dust storms in the Arab world, which are a nearly weekly appearance. No poor air quality I've seen compares to the weekly "dust storms" I used to witness in Kuwait. Even indoors during a Kuwaiti dust storm, one could taste the dust in hallways at my school. I remember every week or so walking outside for 5 minutes and walking back in, my clothes all smelling like I'd dropped them in dirt. I'd brush my teeth and wash my face and hair to get the grit out. I'm certainly happy I don't have to deal with that on a weekly basis anymore.

However, despite this particular problem's occasional appearance on the peninsula, I'm actually surprised at the visibility and the apparent air quality here in Changwon and Korea in general. Given the population density of Changwon and the city's row upon row of Samsung and Doosan plants churning out the latest semiconductors and enormous diesel engines for commercial shipping, one wonders how I see the skies at all. Still, I don't know what the air quality index in Changwon is on a normal day, so I can't comment on anything other than the outdoor air visibility I see with my own two eyes, which by global standards probably isn't that bad.

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