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.
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.