South Koreans started off another suffocating day Tuesday as thick fine dust continued to blanket most of the country for the fifth consecutive day.
The ultra-fine dust level of the Seodaemun district in western Seoul stood at 153 migrograms per cubic meter (㎍/㎥) as of 8 a.m., far eclipsing 76 ㎍/㎥, a level considered "very bad," according to Yonhap.
Most of the other areas in central regions recorded high levels of the dust particles, known as a class-one carcinogen, including Wonju, a city in the northwestern Gangwon Province with 171 ㎍/㎥ of ultra-fine dust and Cheongju in the central North Chungcheong Province with 162 ㎍/㎥, according to the weather agency.
Seoul logged a record high level of ultrafine dust Monday, with the daily average level surging to 118 ㎍/㎥, the highest figure since the government began tracking related data in 2015.
Local governments in 10 major metropolitan cities and provinces Tuesday maintained emergency measures to bring the dust levels down, limiting the vehicles on the road and output at key public emissions facilities.
Citizens remain stifled by the bad air, wearing masks and walking briskly on streets during rush hour.
"The air is so murky and my throat hurts that I even feel depressed," a citizen said. "It's as if there is a really thick fog."
"We only had about half the number of customers (yesterday). People don't want to go far for lunch, and everyone's going home right after work," a restaurant owner complained.
The weather authorities predicted the dust levels to stay high across the nation for most of the day.
On Monday, Seoul’s daily average level of fine dust, or PM2.5, stood at 155 micrograms per cubic meter as of 5 p.m. on Monday, according to Air Korea. The average ultrafine dust level reached 120 micrograms in the nation’s capital, nearly five times the World Health Organization’s recommended daily average of 25 micrograms.
The ultrafine dust level was measured at 116 micrograms per cubic meter for Gyeonggi Province, followed by 111 for North Chungcheong Province, 102 for South Chungcheong Province and 100 for Incheon on Monday afternoon.
The emergency measures will remain in place on Tuesday as well in Seoul and nearby areas, according to Seoul Metropolitan Government.
Emergency measures aimed at tackling the toxic particles went into effect on Monday in 10 cities and provinces, including Seoul, Busan, Daejeon, Sejong, Gwangju and North and South Chungcheong provinces.
When emergency measures go into effect, thermal power plants in the areas must reduce their output to 80 percent of normal operations. Old diesel vehicles 2.5 tons or larger were banned from driving in the city. Some 430 parking lots at state-run organizations were also shut down. Some 100 public emissions facilities were required to keep operational hours shorter. Half of public officials’ vehicles were prohibited from roads.
The Seoul city government also closed its open-air ice skating rink in front of City Hall.
The government on Sunday and Monday sent out emergency alert text messages to warn about the high dust levels and to ask pedestrians to wear masks and refrain from outdoor activities.
It marked the third time, following instances in January and March last year, for the emergency measures to come into force for two consecutive days.
Most parts of South Korea began to experience unhealthy fine dust particles since Friday. Over the weekend, the fine dust level hovered around 89 to 107 micrograms, and the ultrafine dust level remained between 63 and 73 in central Seoul, forcing people indoors.
The particles are hazardous to human health. They are less than 2.5 micrometers in diameter -- about 30 times smaller than the width of a human hair. The particles can travel through the respiratory system and into the bloodstream, causing damage to human organs such as the heart and lungs.
Air Korea said that the density of PM2.5 in all areas was forcecast to be high because fine dust particles had accumulated in and out of the country due to a lack of wind, and additional dust particles had come from overseas.
The nationwide levels of fine dust will remain high throughout the country until the cold winds from the north bring down the temperature and clear the fine dust Tuesday, according to the Korea Meteorological Administration.
Questions continue to linger over the effectiveness of the government’s emergency measures that focus on tackling the fine dust particles produced domestically.
South Koreans largely perceive a huge portion of fine dust to originate from industrial areas in China, but there is yet a scientific research that could measure how much China contributes to the air pollution here.
Seoul Mayor Park Won-soon recently countered Beijing’s claims that China has nothing to do with the fine dust over the Korean Peninsula, citing research that suggest around 50 to 60 percent of fine dust over South Korea originates from China.
A spokesperson for the Chinese Ministry of Ecology and Environment, Liu Youbin, said in December that the air quality in China had improved over the years through regulatory measures, while that of Korea has worsened in the same period.