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[Feature] [20 Must-know GEI] 8. Where does particulate matter come from?

by Eco Generation | 29-07-2016 10:21 Comments 0 Comments recommendations 0 recommendations



20 Must Know Series-Title


8. Where does particulate matter come from?
- from South Korean perspective-


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1. Why is particulate matter (PM) harmful?

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Comparison by the size of particle (hair, sand particle, PM10, PM2.5) 

     Particulate matter (PM) literally means small dust. As shown in the figures, PM10 is about 1/6 to 1/8 the diameter of a hair, and 1/4 the size of PM10 is called PM2.5. So, how exactly does PM affect our health?
     As PM10 and PM2.5 are literally very small dust, they are not filtered by the bronchial tube and reach lungs and alveoli in the body. Recently, components of PM have been getting more varied secondary PM, a combination of nitrogen oxide and sulfur oxide from industrial complexes and PM mixed with heavy metals are likely to move around inside the body through blood vessels, causing respiratory diseases as well as dermatitis, cardiovascular disorder, laryngitis, and others (KIM Dong-young, 2013). 


2. Why does PM occur?

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Source: Joint research by Anyang University and Suwon University, 2011
Particulate matter emissions by region

     Contrary to popular belief, Korea produces more particulate matter problems than China. Although pollutants from China and North Korea through coal-burning for heating and vehicle emissions are parts of that, the PM measurements at Intensive Air Quality Monitoring Stations across the nation by the Korean Ministry of Environment in February 2014 revealed that Korea generates more PM elements than China. As for Seoul, it is estimated that 40% of PM10 is from overseas and 60% from domestic sources. (JANG Yong-ki, 2015)

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Sources of PM2.5 emissions in 2011 

     Road transport (vehicles) Non-road transport (construction machines), Non-industrial combustion (residential or commercial purposes), Biomass combustion (meat, fish, etc.), Other pollutants (forest fire and other fires), Manufacturing industry, Energy industry, Waste, Production process
     Even within Korea, each region has different major sources of PM2.5 and PM10. In urban areas including Seoul, construction dust (fugitive dust) and transport (road and non-road) have emitted the most particulate matter. On the other hand, the manufacturing industry as well as thermal power stations (energy industry) have been the biggest contributors on a nationwide level. 


3. How can we solve complicated air pollution problems?

     Although Korea is the biggest contributor to total particulate matter, PM flies from China as well. How can we then prevent the movement of air pollutants between countries? Europe, which experienced industrialization first, recognized the severity of air pollution problems and concluded the convention on long-range transboundary air pollution in Geneva, Switzerland, in 1979. The participating nations research and monitor air quality through the executive body annually (KIM Jung-soo, 2014). 
     The US also concluded treaties with its neighboring countries—Canada and Mexico—to regulate air pollution. In 1993, Korea signed agreements with Japan and China to develop preventive measures for environmental problems (Sanhaon Environmental Research Institute website). However, some people pointed out that there are limitations, such as a lack of countermeasures after problems have occurred (responsibilities and compensation).


4. What can we do? 

     Korea ranked the lowest (171st) along with China and India in the PM2.5 category of Environmental Performance Index (EPI) announced by the World Economic Forum (WEF) in Davos, Switzerland, in 2014. In order to improve the reliability of air quality data continuously and reduce the causes of PM such as use of coal and transportation, citizens' efforts as well as regulatory policies and technological development are required. Aside from wearing masks and monitoring PM concentrations, what can we do?

• Saving and efficient use of electricity: In order to prevent thermal power stations from emitting a large amount of PM, we basically need to reduce electricity consumption. If individuals save energy and use high-efficiency appliances, overall electricity consumption and thermal power generation will be reduced. In doing so, particulate matter will be decreased as well.

• Using public transport and bicycles: One of the major causes of particulate matter in urban areas is road transportation. Therefore, using public transport and restraining the use of private cars contributes greatly to reducing PM emissions. 

• Installing mini solar power generators: Mini solar power panels hung on window frames in apartment balconies require no wide roof, but only a small space, and are very convenient as they are detachable. By not only reducing energy consumption but also generating our own electricity through renewable energy, we can reduce thermal power generation. In this way, PM emissions are also reduced.

     As PM problems are transnational, the responsibility can't be shifted to others or taken only by oneself. We can take one step further in solving PM problems through joint efforts. 




[Referential materials]

Silent Killer Fine Particulate Matter - The health impacts of current and planned coal-fired power generation in South Korea and related current policy






Script by : Prof. Yoon, Sun-jin's Environment & Energy Lab
                Seoul National University
Illustration by : Kim, Jeong-kyeom







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