Nationwide, only one of 256 environmental observation stations met their ozone goal

Posted on : 2016-10-02 17:29 KST Modified on : 2019-10-19 20:29 KST
Poor results indicate a failure of government policy, and a neglect of ozone as a serious pollutant
Nationwide ozone environment standard achievement rate
Nationwide ozone environment standard achievement rate

Just one of South Korea’s 256 atmospheric pollution observation stations achieved the environmental standard for ozone (O₃) concentrations last year.

The situation amounts to a failure of government policy, with an ozone environment standard achievement rate of less than 1% for the third year running. Yet with so many South Koreans focused on fine particle dust, ozone is not receiving the attention it deserves.

Ozone is an irritating gas produced as mono-nitrogen oxide (NOx) and volatile organic compounds (VOCs) - mostly from cars, industrial facilities, and living spaces - undergo photochemical reactions with ultraviolet rays. Capable of reducing lung capacity and exacerbating ailments of the respiratory organs, lungs, and heart, it is considered one of the leading atmospheric pollutants posing a respiratory health risk to elderly people and children. Environment standards represent national targets as prescribed by the Framework Act on Environmental Policy. Eight categories exist for atmospheric pollutants: ozone, two types of fine dust, sulfur dioxide, nitrogen dioxide, carbon monoxide, lead, and benzene. For ozone, the concentration standard is 0.06 parts per million (ppm) for eight hours.

An atmospheric yearbook for 2015 released on Sep. 29 by the National Institute of Environmental Research (NIER) showed just one of 256 valid atmospheric pollution sites nationwide (including 25 in the Seoul area) to have hourly ozone concentration readings fall within the 0.06ppm standard for eight hours: the neighborhood of Yeonji in Jeongeup, North Jeolla Province. The result put the environment standard achievement rate at 0.4%. The year before, not a single site achieved the standard; in 2013, only two out of 253 valid measurement sites met the standard, for an achievement rate of just 0.8%.

According to the atmospheric yearbook, average annual ozone concentrations fell from 0.024ppm in 2009 to 0.023ppm in 2010, but showed no drops in the following years. Last year, the level reached 0.027ppm. As a result, the atmospheric standard achievement rate has remained below 1% since dropping from 2.6% in 2010 to 2.5% in 2011 and 2.0% in 2012.

Figures from the Korea Environment Corporation (Keco) showed 241 cases of local governments across South Korea issuing ozone warnings for this year as of Sep. 28. The number is already over 100 more than the 134 recorded for the entire year of 2015, representing the highest level since the ozone warning system was instituted in 1995. Ozone warnings are issued by local governments to protect resident health when ozone concentrations exceed an hourly average of 0.12ppm. Both trends - the rise in ozone concentrations and the failure to meet environment standards - appear to have continued through 2016.

With concentrations continuing to rise since 2010, ozone is the only one of the eight atmosphere pollutants subject to environmental standards for which the achievement rate has declined. With environmental standards representing government policy targets that take into account not only effects on the human body but also actual pollution levels and future improvement prospects, a continued decline in the achievement rate effectively represents a government policy failure.

The Ministry of Environment was quick to note the particular risk represented by ozone among atmospheric pollutants. It instituted the ozone warning system in 1998 - fifteen years ahead of its fine dust warning system - and has continued expanding target regions ever since. But it has also failed to actually bring ozone concentrations down.

“Ozone is formed as a result of the NOx from things like cars and the VOCs from paint and gasoline use,” an NIER source explained. “Even if you have policies in place to reduce that, it’s tough to keep it under control because the number of cars and the use of VOCs has increased so rapidly.”

The photochemical reactions that produce ozone occur more frequently when temperatures are warmer. For this reason, experts predict an even greater likelihood of high ozone concentrations as global warming progresses going ahead. Those forecasts, and the indicators seen to date, suggest special countermeasures for ozone are needed in addition to the ones for fine dust, which has been the focus of recent attention - but the fine dust issue has prevented ozone from receiving its due attention.

“The Ministry of Environment’s failure to achieve its atmospheric environment standards suggests that it has forgotten these are state policy targets for atmospheric management,” said Jang Young-kee, a professor in the University of Suwon environmental and engineering department.

“Instead of coming out with new special ozone countermeasures like the ones for fine particle dust not long ago, what we need are integrated measures for managing atmospheric pollution,” Jang said.

By Kim Jeong-su, senior staff writer

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