Citizens’ Concern over Ultrafine Particles
Amid the citizens’ growing concerns on ultrafine particles that pose serious health risks, Seoul city government set out to make an all-out effort to improve the air quality of Seoul through various policies to meet the 20% reduction target of ultrafine particles concentration by 2018. However, since the sources of ultrafine particles are not limited to Seoul and may originate from regions outside of Seoul and even from overseas, Seoul city government’s efforts alone will not be sufficient to tackle this problem. Therefore, Seoul will closely cooperate with and engage the citizens, corporations, and the central government to meet the challenging target of reducing the concentration of ultrafine particles by 20%.
Overview of Seoul’s Air Quality
Changes in Air Quality and Pollution Level
Since the city government began taking an anti-pollution action in earnest in 2003, the air quality of Seoul showed a gradual improvement. The concentration of fine dust (PM-10) and ultrafine particles (PM-2.5) decreased over time with the exception of a slight increase in 2013 and 2014. The concentration of nitrogen dioxide (NO2) which is the major source of ultrafine particles decreased gradually while concentrations of sulfurous acid and carbon monoxide dropped to 1/3 of the standard set by the Ministry of Environment.
Analyzing the Impact of Ultrafine Particles
According to a research on the domestic sources of ultrafine particles in Seoul titled “Research on reducing ultrafine particle concentration” (jointly conducted by Anyang University and Suwon University), motor vehicle emissions account for 35%, heating and power generation 27%, and construction equipment and machinery 17%. This needs to be taken into consideration to set a priority when devising measures to curb the sources of ultrafine particles. In addition, sources from neighboring countries account for 30~50% of ultrafine particles in Seoul. Seoul is particularly vulnerable to outside sources during winter and spring when the dust blows over to Korea on the westerlies. Therefore, efforts to reduce air pollutants at home will not be sufficient to tackle the aggravating air pollution of Seoul. In addition, the fact that ultrafine particles from Incheon and Gyeonggi province affect Seoul underscores the importance of cooperation between these neighboring regions.
Why Improving Air Quality is Necessary
Aggravating air pollution is a serious problem not only because it causes diseases but also because it degrades the quality of life. It is well known that ozone and fine dust incur direct harm on the human body. Higher ozone concentration reportedly leads to respiratory problems including frequent coughing, reduced lung function, and chest anxiety, and causes decrease in the yields of white radish, carnation, and leaf tobacco.
Ultrafine particles are known to cause respiratory and cardiovascular diseases and epidemiology studies found that ultrafine particles lead to higher mortality rates. Recent studies on the relationship between fine particles and diseases found that fine particles affect the bronchial tubes, leading to asthma, chronic bronchitis, and respiratory obstruction or diseases such as myocardial infarction, stroke, abnormal heart rhythms, and even sudden death. Since yellow dust generally carries air pollutants, we need to be cautious of the health hazard risks posed by fine particles along with the health risks of yellow dust such as respiratory problems, asthma, and allergies. As such, reducing air pollution prevents diseases, thereby freeing the citizens from pain, reducing the social cost of medical bills, and creating a more pleasant living environment. All in all, better air quality translates into higher quality of living. In addition, although the price tag of a more pleasant living condition cannot be pinpointed, the positive effect on one’s emotion is invaluable. Therefore, policies to improve the air quality of Seoul bear importance on a par with policies aimed at boosting the economy.
Reducing Ultrafine Particles to Protect Citizens’ Health
Policy Direction to Reduce Ultrafine Particle Concentration
Seoul announced an ambitious goal of reducing ultrafine particle concentration by 20%, which aims for a cleaner atmosphere than that above Bukhansan, with a deadline that is six years ahead of the central government’s plan to reduce the concentration to below 20㎍/ m3. To accomplish this goal, Seoul will build on successful policies of the past by making improvements, come up with new measures, and set a priority based on pollution sources to ensure that all efforts are focused on measures that are highly effective. At the same time, the city government plans to closely work with stakeholders from home and abroad and encourage active participation from the private sector and the citizens to ultimately boost the citizens’ quality of life.
Detailed Plan to Accomplish the Goal
First of all, Seoul will set the priority based on different sources of ultrafine particles and mobilize all direct and indirect measures to tackle each source. Comprehensive efforts will be made to reduce emissions from the transportation and industry sector as well as sources in everyday lives. These efforts will also be linked to indirect measures such as evaluation of environmental effect and urban planning strategy of the city. Second, the city government will customize the detailed plans for different regions and different seasons. For instance, each administrative district office will be encouraged to identify unique measures to tackle the problem. Seoul will also engage in discussions with other local and provincial governments to identify common goals and promote joint efforts. Moving away from a single strategy to be implemented all-yearround, Seoul plans to choose an area of concentration for each season in order to boost administrative efficiency. Third, corporate social responsibility and the participation of the citizens will be emphasized. For instance, the city government will sign MOUs with eco-friendly boiler manufactures to promote the switchover to such boilers and establish citizen-participatory governance structures to boost civic engagement. Lastly, Seoul plans to strengthen partnership with neighboring cities in Korea and China to reap practical benefits. Given that 50~70% of the sources of ultrafine particles originate from outside of Seoul, it is important to establish a cooperative system among neighboring cities to set reduction targets, come up with action plans, and monitor progress on a regular basis.
A New Approach to Reduce the Concentration of Ultrafine Particles
When the Seoul city government initiated measures to improve the air quality in 2002, the priority was on reducing fine dust (PM-10). As a result, the fine particle concentration of Seoul improved significantly but the citizens’ anxiety over ultrafine particles (PM-2.5) continued unabated. Against this backdrop, Seoul needs to devise air quality improvement measures focused on reducing ultrafine particles, boost practical and continuous cooperation with stakeholders from home and abroad, and ensure the health and safety of the citizens.
Major Policies by Sector
Transportation sector (including vehicles, construction equipment/ machinery) accounts for 52% of ultrafine particles. Emissions from diesel cars account for 67% of nitrogen oxide (NOx) which is the major source of ultrafine particles, followed by 12% from gasoline and CNG vehicles, and 9% from LPG-fueled vehicles, respectively. By vehicle type, truck and construction equipment/machinery contributed the most, accounting for 54% of nitrogen oxide emitted. The average atmospheric concentration level of fine particles was reduced significantly owing to various incentives to reduce emission from diesel-powered vehicles including installment of DPF and promotion of CNG cars. However, ultrafine particles that cause negative acute health effects have not been controlled much. To reduce emission of ultrafine particles, Seoul plans to implement a three-pronged strategy. First, Seoul plans to directly tackle the source of vehicle emission by promoting the use of eco-friendly cars such as EV and focusing on reducing emission from diesel cars through new incentives. Second, by rezoning LEZ, the city government will manage the pollution caused by vehicles entering Seoul from outside. Third, efforts will be made to control transportation demand including the introduction of a passenger car mileage system and expansion of car sharing services. Lastly, the city government will work closely with the central government to improve relevant systems and institutions in order to prevent the emission of air pollutants.
Industry & Non-industry Sector
Industrial and non-industrial sources account for 27% of ultrafine particles. Domestic heating generates 92% of nitrogen oxide (NOx), major source of ultrafine particles, which is why the atmospheric concentration of NOx is generally higher during winter and spring. To dramatically cut the emission of nitrogen oxide, Seoul Metropolitan Government promoted the use of eco-friendly boilers and low NOx burners, which are priced at KRW 800,000 with NOx emissions of 40 ppm. Although these burners produce significantly lower NOx emissions than conventional models that produce 147ppm, the 20% price difference acts a barrier in switching to these eco-friendly models.
Therefore, the Seoul city government will provide subsidy to cover the price difference or low interest loans for those households that replace conventional boilers with eco-friendly ones. In addition, the government will revise the plan to mandate the installation of ecofriendly boilers in the metropolitan region and closely work with boiler manufacturers and civic groups to install eco-friendly boilers for the vulnerable citizens as a pilot project. Moreover, the total emission regulation of NOx will be enforced to cover medium- and large-sized power plants and incineration plants that produce significant amounts of nitrogen oxide whereas consultation will be provided to small-sized plants or workplaces to improve the process.
Living Environment Sector
Fugitive dust accounts for 12% of ultrafine particles in Seoul whereas emissions from restaurants with barbecue equipment, jjimjilbangs, or Korean style dry saunas, print shops, and washhouses account for 7%. To reduce dust loads on the streets, the same street washing method has been applied to all administrative districts without taking into consideration the different characteristics of the roads. Meanwhile, pollutants emitted from business establishments such as restaurants with barbecue equipment and jjimjilbangs have not been managed as of yet and burning of biological materials that leads to stench and air pollution also needs to be controlled.
To tackle these sources, SMG will first introduce an IT-based street dust management system and set the priority to clean high dust load regions first. Second, citizens will be encouraged to participate in managing the dust scattering at construction sites to strengthen the management and supervision of these sites. Third, empty lots in neighborhoods will be turned into green spaces to reduce dust loads and provide rest areas for the residents. Fourth, SMG aims to increase the total area of vacant lots turned into green spaces by fivefold, from 132.8ha in 2013 to 755.4ha in 2018. Fifth, jjimjilbangs (with an area of 30m3 or greater) and restaurants with barbeque equipment will be mandated to install pollution-control devices. Lastly, volatile organic compound (VOC) emitted from print houses and gas stations will be strictly controlled.
Mitigating Air Pollution and Mobilizing Indirect Measures
In 2014, the ultrafine particle concentration was the highest in the Southwest region of Seoul (27㎍/m3) followed by 25㎍/m3 in the Northeast region and 24㎍/m3 in the Northwest and Central region. The major sources of pollutants were also different for different regions. However, such unique characteristics of each region were not taken into consideration when devising policies and administrative district offices that achieved significant reduction in pollutant emission were not given sufficient incentives to keep the momentum going. In addition, the same strategy has been implemented all year round despite the different priorities for different seasons. Against this backdrop, SMG set out the following strategies. First, SMG will develop customized projects for different regions and administrative districts taking into consideration the difference in concentration and sources of ultrafine particles. Second, the city government will provide incentives to administrative districts based on quantitative and qualitative evaluation of the air quality improvement projects conducted by each district. Third, activities to mitigate the impact of air pollution and protect the citizens’ health will be redesigned, reflecting the seasonal differences. Lastly, the city government will expand greenspaces and create wind passage through open spaces to improve the air quality.
Establishing a Northeast Asia Network to Improve Air Quality
Given the fact that about 30~50% of air quality of Seoul is affected by air qualities of China and other countries in Northeast Asia and 25~30% is affected by that of neighboring regions such as Incheon and Gyeonggi-do Province, majority of ultrafine particle sources originate from outside of Seoul. Therefore, efforts by Seoul alone can do only so much to limit the rise in ultrafine particle concentration. However, active cooperation with neighboring countries such as China has been limited and although the Basic Plan on the Metropolitan Area Air Quality Management and enforcement plans by each provincial and local government have been established and implemented, more substantial cooperation with among local governments is needed.
To strengthen international cooperation, SMG will closely work with local governments in Northeast Asia, experts, and the private sector to set reduction targets and devise implementation plans. The progress will be monitored on a regular basis to ensure that major cities in Northeast Asia including China will meet the target and achieve air quality improvement. Domestically, the city government will join hands with municipal governments in the metropolitan region to launch a working-level T/F team dedicated to improving the air quality in the metropolitan region in 2015. Building on the work of the Committee on Metropolitan Atmospheric Environment Management, the T/F team will launch joint investigation of emission sources on a regular basis, conduct peer monitoring and inspections, provide feedback or ideas for new solutions, and conduct joint projects to improve air quality.
Engaging the Public to Improve Air Quality
Up until now, the concept of ultrafine particles or appropriate measures to address the hazardous risk was not clearly understood by the public, leaving many unprotected from health hazards ~. Seoul’s emission reduction efforts alone will have limited effect on lowering the concentration of ultrafine particles in the city because there are many uncontrolled sources in the daily lives of the citizens. For instance, the city government’s current policy focuses on reducing emission from diesel-powered cars which account for only 10% of the total registered vehicles in Seoul. It is necessary to expand the program to cover more registered cars and induce voluntary participation from the citizens.
Although high concentration of ultrafine particles have become more frequent due to internal and external factors and increased atmospheric stagnation, a comprehensive system is not in place to cope with the situation. It is necessary to devise a systematic approach to minimize health risks by providing information in advance and protect the vulnerable citizens by implementing proactive measures. To this end, SMG will first establish a governance structure that allows citizens to better understand the health risk of ultrafine particles and actions to minimize the hazardous effect. Second, the city government will move away from passive measures to initiate more proactive measures. Third, SMG will seek cooperation with various associations, organizations, and experts. Last, the current system will be improved to provide prompt forecast, warning, and other information related to ultrafine particles.
Seoul, Towards a City of Fresh Air
In 2015, Seoul will establish the infrastructure necessary to ensure the smooth implementation of new projects and focus on reforming the institutions to encourage voluntary participation from the citizens and tackle the source of pollution. In 2016, Seoul plans to expand the number of emission reduction projects to achieve substantial improvement in the air quality. With these plans in mind, Seoul will exert all efforts to accomplish the mid-term goal of lowering the concentration of PM 2.5 to 23㎍/m3.
In 2017, Seoul city government will focus on implementing major projects to reduce the emission of heavy pollutants and improve visibility. Along with these efforts, major cities in China will also meet the reduction targets, leading to substantial improvement in air quality that can be felt by the citizens. In 2018, air quality improvement projects led by Seoul including incentives to promote the use of ecofriendly cars will be expanded to the private sector to achieve the long-term target of lowering the concentration of PM 2.5 to 20㎍/m3 and improve the air quality of Seoul so that children can play outdoors without any worries.