Although thick fine dust blanketed most of the country for nearly a week, government measures to reduce it have not been so effective. Fortunately, it is forecast to recede this weekend, but it is predicted to come over the Korean Peninsula often through May or June, sometimes mixed with yellow sand blown from China. Fine dust has become a perennial problem.
Of course, the government is well aware of the seriousness of the problem and has enforced emergency measures in the public sector four times so far this year. Though they are called emergency measures, the means are very limited. An even-odd car campaign, temporary closure of parking lots at public institutions and suspension of government-run waste incineration plants are measures to speak of.
However, their effects have been minimal. Air quality checks by the government in January found the recent enforcement of emergency measures reduced fine dust density in the capital area by 1 to 2.4 percent. The fine dust reduction effect from the even-odd system is said to be around 0.1 percent.
As effects of the emergency measures turned out to be minimal, the Ministry of Environment announced complementary measures Thursday, which call for the expansion of the measures to the private sector and across the country. However, even if they are extended to businesses, how many of them will follow suit and to what extent are a toss-up, as the measures are not yet mandatory for the private sector.
Clearly, fine dust is emitted partly at home and partly attributable to factors from China. A Korea Standards Research Institute analysis of the fine dust density in Daejeon found that potassium, which is used as an oxidizer in firecrackers, was 8 times denser than normal during the Chinese New Year holidays when fireworks were frequently set off across China. It is evidence of the Chinese effect, though it is not easy to measure the precise weight of domestic and Chinese factors.
Regarding fine dust from China, fresh steps were nowhere to be found in the latest complementary measures. The ministry unveiled plans to open a Korea-China environmental cooperation center, conduct joint research projects and publish a Korea-China-Japan report. These are little changed from past actions. What the ministry means by these measures is that it will consider what to do after further research.
Of course, it is important to conduct thorough research on the sources of fine dust, but it is common knowledge that fine dust from China aggravates atmospheric pollution in Korea. Complaints about fine dust have long since become a staple of daily life, and still the government talks about research. How long should the people not hear the end of it?
No one denies that yellow dust originating from the inner part of China is blown towards the Korean Peninsula. The same is true of fine dust. China must not bury its head in the sand or look the other way when it comes to the problems of yellow sand or fine dust.
Especially frustrating is the dubious attitude of the government. The administration has not raised the issue of fine dust with China in the past year. Though Beijing is not expected to answer meekly to Seoul’s complaints, the government must not let up on complaining, while continuing to collect evidence.
The number of people who signed a petition on the Cheong Wa Dae website urging the government to complain to the Chinese government about air pollution caused by fine dust had exceeded 200,000 as of Thursday. A presidential senior secretary or a related Cabinet minister is now required to issue an official answer. Beijing as well as Cheong Wa Dae should heed the growing public dissatisfaction on the annual air pollution issue.
Fine dust is a problem that can be solved with the government taking effective and convincing measures to reduce domestic emissions and at related countries collaborating. The government should not try to reduce only domestic emissions, but also fine dust from China. If effects from China account for a considerable portion of fine dust in Korea and the government does little to reduce that, the situation will not improve.