Over the past few years, it has become more and more difficult to see clear, blue skies in South Korea. Cities are shrouded in hazardous gray dust, making it difficult to even see buildings that are not far away. The sales of products such as air purifiers, face masks, and even glasses are soaring exponentially each year.
While an Air Quality Index (AQI) above 100 is considered unhealthy, the AQI of Pyongtaek, a city in the Gyonggi Province, hit 178 on March 20. On the same week, Seoul’s daily pollution ranking was the third highest in the world, only after New Dehli (India) and Dhaka (Bangladesh).
By the end of March 2017, the South Korean government had issued 85 ultrafine dust advisories, which is more than double the number of advisories issued in the same period last year.
PM2.5, more commonly referred to as “fine dust”, are microscopic particles that enter the bronchial tubes when inhaled. Although not visible, the damage PM2.5 causes is extremely harmful. In October 2013, the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), classified outdoor air pollutants as one of the most carcinogenic substances.
While air pollution is a serious problem, many tend to overlook its severity.
“Although the media emphasizes the severity of air pollution, it doesn’t seem as serious,” said Helen Lee, a Suwon resident, in an interview with JSR. “As the situation has always been the same, I can’t feel the difference [in air quality]. I don’t even remember what fresh air feels like, that I can’t tell if the air is actually bad.”