Recently, a problem more serious and damaging than that of Asia’s yellow dust has emerged—fine particle pollution. Fine particles are particulate matter with a diameter of 2.5 microns (1 micron = 1/1000 of a millimeter). Compared to a strand of hair, which has a diameter of 50 to 70 microns, and coarse particles and yellow dust, with diameters of around 10 microns, fine particles are much smaller in size. They are so small that our respiratory system are unable to filter them from the air we breathe, allowing these pollutants to penetrate deep into our lung and skin, causing serious health risks.
|Study to reduce fine particle pollution (Source: Collaboration between Anyang University and Suwon University, 2011)||Pictures of various types of fine particles under a microscope
(Source: Project team for the reduction of damage caused by fine particles)
The major sources of fine particles are industrial activities, including vehicle emissions, combustion in boilers, and coal burning. The main components of such fine particle pollution are sulphates, nitrates, and ammonia, which are detrimental to human health. Since these emissions include a high proportion of heavy metal particles, the World Health Organization (WHO) has designated these airborne particulates as a Group 1 carcinogen.
Fine participles are divided into two groups: those that come from outside a certain area and those that are produced within that area. The particles of the former are produced mainly in large cities in Northeast Asia, from which they blow over to Korea on the prevailing winds from the west.
Seoul has designated the three major sources of fine particles originating in the city as: transportation, heating systems· power generation, and arsenic acid dust.
In October 2014, Seoul introduced the “Reduce Fine Particle Pollution by 20 Percent” project due to the growing concern over the health risks, such as respiratory disease, caused by fine particle pollution and the rising demand for better air quality among the citizens. The project aims to reduce the concentration of fine particulate matter in the city’s air by 20 percent, from 25㎍/㎥ in 2013 to 20㎍/㎥ by 2018. To achieve this goal, the city has established 70 specific tasks spanning six divisions, and has been striving to carry them out.
The overall vision of the project is to develop initiatives that aim to reduce fine particle pollution from specific sources and strengthen the concerted efforts being made domestically and internationally. To realize these goals, the city has established plans that seek to achieve comprehensive reductions in fine particles by pursuing solutions customized to each pollutant.
The “Reduce Fine Particle Pollution by 20 Percent” project is made up of several major programs: ① introduction of environment-friendly vehicles, including electric cars, trucks, and two-wheeled vehicles; ② establishment of the “Namsan Mountain Clean Air Zone” by 2015; ③ intensive regulation of engine idling in winter, especially around traditional palaces; ④ expanded use of environment-friendly boilers for home heating purposes; ⑤ establishment and operation of the “Civic Activist Movement for a Clear Sky”; ⑥ application of advanced IT technology to reduce dust on roads; ⑦ development and implementation of plans to improve air quality in each season; ⑧ agreement on air pollution reduction goals with other cities and countries, including China, along with sustainable implementation and monitoring of the efforts to achieve those goals.
In October 2013, prior to the introduction of this project, the city introduced the “Alarm System for Fine Particles,” the first system of its kind in the nation, as part of its diverse efforts to reduce the risks that fine particle pollution poses to citizen’s health.
With a focus on the transportation sector, which accounts for 52 percent of all fine particle emissions, comprehensive efforts have been made to fundamentally reduce emissions, including the implementation of programs to reduce emissions and manage transportation supply and demand.
In particular, a program to reduce pollution caused by old diesel vehicles has been implemented and carried out on a consistent basis, contributing significantly to improving air quality in the city. In addition, new initiatives have been developed and implemented since 2015 with the aim of reducing nitrogen oxide emissions, a major source of fine particles, such as the PM-NOx Reduction Device Installation Program and Three-way Catalytic Converter and Heavy Equipment Engine Replacement Program. On August 4, 2016, in order to ensure the effective implementation of these programs, the city government made an agreement, called the “Restriction on the Operation of Old Diesel Vehicles in the Seoul Metropolitan Area,” with the minister of environment and the leaders of Seoul, Gyeonggi, and Incheon. This agreement among municipal governments is the first to introduce Low Emission Zones (LEZs).
The city also plans to promote the use of electric vehicles (EVs) by introducing 12,000 of them and replacing 358 official government vehicles, which are due for replacement, with environment-friendly cars, all by 2018. Moreover, the city has been making efforts to expand the infrastructure for EVs by installing more rapid EV charging stations throughout the city and developing portable EV chargers that can be used at users’ homes.
Another initiative of the city is the “Green Transportation Promotion Zone,” which will be established in the area encompassed by Seoul City Wall. In this zone, traffic will be monitored so as to prioritize public transportation and restrict the entrance of vehicles depending on traffic conditions. In addition, all vehicles operated by car sharing services inside Seoul City Wall will be replaced with EVs, and the number of bicycles operated by bike sharing systems will be increased ten-fold, promoting bicycles as a major means of transportation within the city. Improvements will also be made to the management system for transportation supply and demand; for example, the number of vehicles operated by car sharing services will be doubled by 2020 so as to expand the base of environment-friendly, sharing-based transportation in Seoul, and the proportion of EVs will be increased from the current 14 percent to 85 percent.
|Installation of diesel particulate filter (DPF)||Change to CNG (compressed natural gas) buses||Video surveillance monitoring in Low Emission Zone (LEZ)|
|Agreement on restricting old diesel cars in the Seoul Metropolitan Area (August 4, 2016)||Charging an EV||Designation of “Green Transportation Promotion Zone”|
The second largest source of fine particle pollution, following the transportation sector, is home heating systems, which account for 27 percent of all fine particle emissions, followed by arsenic acid dust at 12 percent. These pollutants are generated in the course of people’s daily lives.
Since 2015, the city government has promoted the use of eco-friendly boilers, which produce less NOx emissions, one of the sources of fine particles. It has done so by providing subsidies to compensate consumers for the price differences between ordinary boilers and eco-friendly ones. In 2016, the city has so far provided 1,000 eco-friendly boilers and implemented a project that aims to replace old boilers with low-NOx ones for 300 to 500 workplaces and houses annually.
To address the issue of construction sites emitting arsenic acid dust around residential areas, the city strengthened monitoring activities through the “Livelihood Jurisdiction Police” project, and established and operated “Joint Monitoring by Related Organizations” to reinforce supervision. Moreover, the city will expand related technology support, such as by offering professional consultations for pollutant-emitting facilities, with the goal of having workplaces control their emissions voluntarily.
Regarding the issue of road dust, the city government aims to quickly replace all water-based road cleaning vehicles with absorption-based cleaning vehicles, which will be operated year-round, especially in the winter, when air pollution intensifies, by increasing the number of the latter from 35 in 2015 to 70 by 2017. Since 2015, the city has operated a road dust management system that measures road dust levels in real time, allowing it to effectively and efficiently clean highly polluted areas. In addition, Seoul plans to complete the maintenance of 42 kilometers of street gutters, which it has undertaken as another means of minimizing arsenic acid dust.
Different types of air pollutants become problems in different seasons: fine particles in the winter, yellow dust in the spring, and ozone in the summer. Recognizing this, the city takes consistent, annual measures, adopting different methods, and adjusts the intensity of those measures based on the season in order to increase the effectiveness of its air pollution policies. It has even included increasing green spaces and securing paths for wind in the city in its efforts to improve air quality.
|Management of workplaces emitting arsenic acid dust||Providing low-NOx burners||Environment-friendly boilers installed in parallel|
|Road dust absorption-type cleaning vehicles||Part of the road dust control system||Fostering green spaces in residential areas (Source: Yeongdeungpo-gu Office)|
Along with the efforts outlined above, Seoul Metropolitan Government (SMG) has sought to establish international networks throughout Northeast Asia with the aim of improving the city’s air quality by reducing the amount of fine particles blowing into Korea from overseas. The city government is striving to improve air quality, through substantial and consistent efforts, based on collaboration with 15 major cities in five countries in Northeast Asia, including China, Japan, and Mongolia, as well as with professionals and businesses. At the Northeast Asia Forum on Air Quality Improvement, held in May 2016, Seoul announced the “Seoul Declaration for the Air Quality Improvement” to express its will for collaboration on the air quality problem. The statement implies that every municipal government should recognize the problems associated with air pollution and promise to make concerted and concrete efforts to resolve them.
In addition, the environment team of the “Seoul-Beijing Joint Committee,” which was created to find ways of solving the environmental problems of both cities in 2015, held a conference to share the outcomes of its efforts to control air pollutants and arsenic acid dust on roads. Through such international networks, Seoul aims to draw greater attention to the fact that the air pollution problem cannot be resolved through the efforts of only one city in Northeast Asia, as well as to come up with measures and continuously strengthen collaboration.
SMG also established the “Seoul Metropolitan Area-Municipal Government Policy Committee” in January 2016 in order to foster concerted air pollution efforts with nearby regions, including Gyeonggi and Incheon. In the committee, major issues—such as eco-friendly transportation, including the operation of the Limited Emission Zones and change to diesel CNG vehicles—will be discussed, and the participants will cooperate with one another to improve air quality. Of particular note, the Limited Emission Zone program is expected to be reinforced on an annual basis.
|Northeast Asia Forum on Air Quality Improvement (May 2016)||Seoul-Beijing Joint Committee (April 2014)||Meeting for MOU with Shandong on Air Quality Improvement|
It is only through the participation of citizens that all of these efforts to improve air quality can be successful. Recognizing this, the city government launched the “Civic Activist Movement for a Clean Sky” in February 2015, and has been actively engaging in this civic activist movement ever since. In April 2016, the city held the “Ten Citizens’ Principles to Reduce Fine Particulates” competition, and announced the results the following June. In addition, Seoul has held various related events, including an Earth Day promotional event in April 2016, an educational program for eco-friendly driving that aims to reduce energy consumption and air pollution, and the “Seoul EV Eco-Rally” in June 2016. Through these events, the city is promoting civic engagement and implementing civic campaigns to improve air quality.
Eventually, SMG aims to achieve its goal of reducing fine particle pollution to 20.0㎍/㎥ by 2018, thereby realizing a “Healthy Clean City, Seoul,” where children can enjoy a clean and green outdoor environment.
|Award Ceremony for “Ten Citizens’ Principles to Reduce Fine Particulates” (June 2016)||Earth Day Event (April 2016)|
|Northeast Asia International Forum (May 2016)||Seoul EV Eco-Rally (June 2016)||The clean sky of Seoul|