Monday, April 4, 2011

Don't Breathe the Yellow Dust

... apologies to Frank Zappa.

Nearly 1 million tons of contaminated sand is expected to sprinkle the country in the next two months, according to the Korean Meteorological Association (KMA).

No, this is not fallout from the Fukushima nuclear reactors in northeastern Japan, but the ordinary springtime dosage of bad-shit-pollution from China. According to JoongAng Daily:
Small amounts of cesium-137, a highly radioactive material, have been detected in Korea’s air and soil between February and April - when the dust gets most serious - over the past 10 years, the Korea Institute of Nuclear Safety said in a report submitted to an opposition lawmaker.
Yellow dust - fine sand blown from the Gobi Desert in China and Mongolia every spring that sometimes includes toxic chemical smog emitted by Chinese factories - can cause respiratory disorders.
The atmospheric concentration of cesium-137 reached 252 becquerels per cubic meter, especially when the yellow dust continued for up to 11 days, the institute said. The most recent figure was 89.6 becquerels per cubic meters, a relatively high amount, measured for three days in March last year.

Tuttle has noted, especially the last two weeks or so, an unusual congestion, scratchy throat and dry, irritated nose, often explained by his seventeen pack a day cigarette habit (or his exaggeration habit). When the same phenomena are observed in others, he begins to look outside himself, and notices the usually blue Seoul sky (no, seriously) is fogging up the sun and turning brown with floating particulate matter, aka, crap in the air. Yellow dust. Sez Korea Times:
The hazardous storms cost South Korea an estimated 7 trillion won ($6.2 billion) annually and environmentally detrimental, according to state statistics. Local producers of semi conductors and other precision goods see higher defect rates during this season.
More than 34 percent of the entire population, mostly children and the elderly, receive medical treatment for illnesses caused by exposure to the large amount of yellow dust.
Clouds of yellow dust covered South Korea for nearly 10 days a year on average over the last decade between March and May. In 2010, the sandstorms lasted for a total of 12.3 days.

This makes it sound like Seoul has an air pollution problem. Well, there's good news and bad news. The good news is, Seoul's air quality is consistently as good or better than other OECD cities, like Tokyo or New York. The bad news is, that isn't really such good news.

While Seoul has replaced its diesel and petrol buses with cleaner CNG, its attempt to force odd/even driving days seems to have failed. And the Japanese nuclear "meltdown"--though it's not that, of course--isn'r helping matters. From today's Korea Times, describing a "worst possible situation":
The Norwegian Institute for Air Research reported Sunday that cesium-137 and other radioactive materials leaked from the crippled reactors will reach the southern part of the country around 9 a.m. Wednesday and cover the entire Korean Peninsula around 9 a.m. the next day.
Radioactive substances will reach the Korean Peninsula three or four days after leakage from the stricken Fukushima plant, and levels of radioactivity are expected to be higher than ever detected here.

I'm all aglow with anticipation.


Chris said...

I'm going to call you on that 1 millon tons of dust. I was going to say that's way too much dust, but then I ran the numbers. Considering fine sand has a usual density of about 1200 kg/m^3, and South Korea occupies about 219,140 square km, were 1 millon tons of yellow dust settle evenly on the country it would only amount to less than 4 microns! The human hair is 20-200 microns, and a piece of common copier paper is about 100 microns. I'm calling this one BO~~~~O~~~~~GUS. I believe the number must be higher, or else the dust is very un-uniform in distribution.

As for being aglow, check quickly, I think a stray ash from one of your 360 daily cigarettes has ignited your hair! Really, 18 packs a day, you should request a wage increase just to pay your tobocconists bill.

Tuttle said...

My thinking would be that it's not uniform, and is greatly affected by altitude, wind patterns and moisture in the air.

Hey, did you just exaggerate my exaggeration from 17 pack to 18? Cheeky monkey!

Chris said...

Guilty as charged! My hovercraft is full of eels.