Save your Lungs from the”Fine Dust” fog!

Park Jeonghun

At 8:00am, you wake up, and get out of your house to start your day.  But when you look up to the morning sky, it looks as if it is foggy. As you walk into the “fog”, you start to have a soar throat. When you look up the weather forecast, it says “airborne particulates” are in Seoul. What are these particulates? And how to prevent the toll of them would be illustrated in this text.

Simply said, airborne particulates or “미세먼지” (Fine dust in Korean) are fine particles that are floating in the air. There are three broad categories of them in size. The first is particles larger than 10 micro meters (denoted as PM10), and the second being smaller than 2.5 micrometers (PM2.5). To give you a brief scale of the size, the human hair is 50 to 70 micrometers, and the beach sand is about 90 micrometers in diameter. In short, it is very small, unseen in naked eye.

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You may ask why are these small particles harmful? The answer is self-evident in some way. The size is too small. It can infiltrate lungs, resulting in increased mortality for populations that lack immune systems like elderly and children. Moreover, it can irritate the eyes and increase the change of respiratory infections among all populations. Especially in Korea, because the peninsula is close to China, fine metal particles from industrial sectors in China infiltrate the airspace. Most notably, lead (Pb in the periodic table), a toxic metal used for soldering electric circuits, levels in Seoul has increased more than three times, when there is airborne particulate pollution in the air. In conclusion, you should not breathe it without any apparatus that filters it.

To filter the particles in the air, you need to buy a disposable respirator. However, every respirator is not suitable for blocking these harmful substances in airspace. Respirators that are rated N95 (Non-oil resistant for 95% certified by US National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health) at least or KF 94; the Korean equivalent, can filter the particles. Drugstores sell masks that has KF94 ratings, so you could buy one of them, or buy disposable respirators made for industrial use from 3M like below.

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There are ways to know whether the airborne particles are in the air. Even though, there are many sites provide information, I would only introduce that are provided in English. The simplest one is Google. When you google “Air quality” you can get instant results. The Google tracks your location and provides the air quality index (AQI) in your area. The search is intuitive and a simple search using any of your device would give you instant results.

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Because of its severity, the government is doing measures to reduce the particles in many ways. Most notably, they are trying to reduce micro particles that are emitted through coal power plants that generate electricity. Moreover, they are giving emergency alerts to citizens in the area, when there is excessive air pollution. However, the main driver of the pollution is air inflow from China. Unless, China focuses more on sustainability, the issue would prevail, regardless of our efforts. Until then, wear your masks when particulates are in the air.

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