Air Pollution in Seoul, Beijing and Tokyo


Air Pollution in Seoul, Beijing and Tokyo

The quality of air — in major East Asian cities such as Seoul, Beijing and Tokyo — is increasingly becoming a public health hazard. Recently, the People’s Republic of China announced that it is planning to decommission 6 million vehicles which do not meet emission standards by the end of this year. With poor air quality in Beijing, fighting pollution has become a priority for China’s leaders.


As westerly (Jet Stream) winds (flowing from west to east) are bringing “Yellow Sand” — a.k.a. Yellow Dust — from China to Korea and Japan, the issue of clean air has now become a regional (cross-border) health issue, especially during the 3 months of March, April and May.

Problems are now such that tiny dust particles (air pollutants) –– called “extra-fine micro dust particles” in Korean (fine particles with diameter of 2.5 micro-meters or less)— can enter inside our lungs and trigger serious respiratory diseases and cardiovascular problems, not just during spring but at anytime throughout the year.

140528arqultychrt09Subsequently, it is now increasingly becoming more commonplace for people to wear protective masks as to shield themselves from these micro dust particles in the streets of Seoul, Beijing, Tokyo and all other major cities across East Asia.

♦ Value-Added Insight 

There is an international standard called the AQI (Air Quality Index) which is an index that indicates (communicates) how clean or unhealthy the quality of air is on a particular day and what associated health effects may be of concern. To look up the “AQI” of a town (city) that you’re currently living in, please use the following links.

It should be noted that South Korea uses a different “index” system called the CAI (Comprehensive Air-quality Index), thus the numbering system from the English Site and Air Korea will not match-up. 140528arqultychrt05

Each category, in the above chart, corresponds to a different level of health concern. The six levels of health concern and what they mean are:

  • “Good” AQI is 0 – 50. Air quality is considered satisfactory, and air pollution poses little or no risk.
  • “Moderate” AQI is 51 – 100. Air quality is acceptable; however, for some pollutants there may be a moderate health concern for a very small number of people. For example, people who are unusually sensitive to ozone may experience respiratory symptoms.
  • “Unhealthy for Sensitive Groups” AQI is 101 – 150. Although general public is not likely to be affected at this AQI range, people with lung disease, older adults and children are at a greater risk from exposure to ozone, whereas persons with heart and lung disease, older adults and children are at greater risk from the presence of particles in the air. .
  • “Unhealthy” AQI is 151 – 200. Everyone may begin to experience some adverse health effects, and members of the sensitive groups may experience more serious effects. .
  • “Very Unhealthy” AQI is 201 – 300. This would trigger a health alert signifying that everyone may experience more serious health effects.
  • “Hazardous” AQI greater than 300. This would trigger a health warnings of emergency conditions. The entire population is more likely to be affected.

♦ Food for Thought 

The poor quality of air, is rapidly becoming a growing public health concern and hazard. The severity of this issue is not yet well known because we will be the first generation of mankind to experience life under such circumstances.

It is strongly recommended, by a many physicians (experts), to abstain from rigorous outdoor activities (sporting or otherwise) that requires heavy breathing when the AQI index is above the 150 mark (or above the unhealthy color “red” zone).

To put this into an easy-to-understand perspective (frame of reference), the number of days above 150 are frequent in East Asia, the number of days above 150 in North America are seldom.

♦ Language Footnote 

  • Yellow Sand = 황사 / 黃沙 / 黃砂 (こうさ)
  • Extra-Fine Micro Dust Particles (Fine Particles) = 초미세먼지 (PM 2.5 /particles with diameter of 2.5 micro-meters or less)
  • Micro Dust Particles (RSP: Respirable Suspended Particles) =  미세먼지 (PM 10 / particles with diameter of 10 micro-meters or less)

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