There are some things in life I’ve never had to worry about. Growing up in Vermont, with no respiratory ailments, air quality was one of those things. However, here in Korea, especially in a big city like Seoul it’s become a major consideration for me. The point was hammered home yesterday when we were hit with an unusually early, and particularly sever yellow dust storm.
The yellow dust is blown down the peninsula from China. It’s a combination of dust from the desert (due to increasing desertification) and other particulate matter due to China’s air pollution and heavy reliance on coal power plants. That combination makes the dust particularly nasty and a big health issue as it contains not only dust, but also bacteria and industrial pollutants.
Good air quality levels are under 50 parts per million. Yesterday air quality in the greater Seoul area was around 1,000. It was literally off the charts and well into the toxic range. People were encouraged to stay indoors if possible, schools cancelled outdoor activities, and masks were recommended if you did have to go outside. The air its self was a yellowish-grey haze settling over most of the city, reducing visibility greatly.
I’m lucky. I’m healthy, but it’s very common for the air quality to be dangerous for those with respiratory ailments (in fact it is today). Even if I don’t have respiratory issues, it does still impact my own health. I strongly suspect the air quality playing a role as a migraine trigger for me. Since coming to Korea my migraines have become more frequent, and less likely to respond as well to my usual medication. My Doctor has said it could be allergies to the yellow dust.
Growing up in a place like Vermont the very idea that you could need a mask to safely go outside is absurd. It’s something that you would never in your wildest dreams would image happening to you. Yet for many people it’s a very real reality. For me it’s now a reality. I need to get a mask so I can go outside when the air gets bad. There are things being done about it. Korea and China are working together to try and mitigate the yellow dust. They are planting trees to fight desertification, and improving air quality tracking. Yet, until countries move to cleaner energy sources the problem will never go away. You need only look to the United State’s own past to see the difference that air quality laws have made in improving the lives of city dwellers and the air we all need to survive.
The issue of yellow dust is just one of many examples of how we are all connected. When it comes to the environment, to the very land, air and water that every single one of us need there are no country lines. Pollution doesn’t stay in the area which creates it, it knows no boundaries. We all must work together in a spirit of cooperation to overcome the issues that face us all. These issues are not issues of any one country, but of us all.