South Korea

Published: Sunday 31 August 1997

Seoul, the capital of South Korea is one of the most polluted cities of the world. Rhee Chong, head of the division of pulmonary medicine in the department of medicine at the Samsung Medical Center in Seoul, identified sulphur dioxide (so2) and photochemical oxidants (pco)-ozone gas as being the worst pollutants. so2 is produced by power plants, oil refineries, smelters and coal, and from kerosene heaters indoors and motor engines.

Chung Yong, teaching in the college of medicine at the department of preventive medicine and public health at Yonsei University is concerned about ozone gas, which contains fine particles, carcinogens, called polyaromatic hydrocarbons ( pahs). The concentration of pahs is on the rise from combustion in automobiles.Yong, president of the Korean Society for Environ-mental Impact Assessment added that conservative estimates held pollution responsible for 20 to 30 per cent of cases of throat and lung cancer.

Chong explained that photochemical oxidants ( pco ), comparable to ozone gas, contain cancer-causing carcinogens and form in connection with nitrogen dioxide. "Diesel trucks and buses are the major contri-butors to pcos," he argued.

Pollution is also caused by yellow sand, an annual phenomenon that occurs between March and May. Winds pick up chemicals from heavy industrial zones in China and when they pass over urban centres in Korea, "the aerosols measure two to three times more than the average," according to a study conducted by the Institute of Global Environ-ment at the Kyunghee Uni-versity in Seoul. A thin film of the sand is often visible on spring mornings, on cars parked overnight," says Chong.

Seoul's foul air is in fact trapped as the city is surrounded by mountains, located as it is in a valley from which the gases are unable to get out. These mountains house a vast variety of flora and for the time being the best advice experts can offer to Seoul's residents is getting away as often as possible for a breath of fresh mountain air.

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