It's not uncommon to encounter days in Seoul where the air quality is really bad and polluted. The air quality is however often the worst in Spring, when the combination of pollen from the Spring flowers and yellow dust from China cause air quality to reach seriously unhealthy levels. While it is the salient for those suffering from respiratory issues such as asthma to protect themselves during such periods, people from non-sensitive groups such also pay attention to the air quality levels. The health risks that come from exposure to pollutants (in both the PM2.5 and PM10 range) can result in serious health complications for all in the short-term and long-term.
Check Seoul's Hourly Air Quality Here: aqicn.org/city/korea/seoul/seodaemun-gu/
In short, Particulate Matter (PM) 2.5 are extremely fine particulate matter of less than 2.5 micrometers. PM2.5 are small enough to "bypass the nose and throat and penetrate deep into the lungs and some may even enter the circulatory system". PM10 are slightly larger particles of 10 micrometers or less in diameter. Exposure to any of these particles have been proven to lower mortality rate due to lung or heart disease. It will also trigger or worsen respiratory problems. Immediate exposure to these particles can cause eye and throat irritation too. To find out more about fine particles and air pollution, read these:
In order to protect yourself from these pollutants, it is recommended that you purchase and wear a mask on top of reducing strenuous outdoor activities. Cloth and surgical masks will not protect you adequately from fine particles and pollutants. Based on US standards, it is recommended for you to get at least a N95 masks that can filter out 95% of particulate matter.
Korea uses its own standards for masks -- KF80, KF94, and KF99 that filter out 80%, 94% and 99% of particulate matter respectively. Read more about the different masks available here: www.10mag.com/yellow-dust-mask-korea/
Learn how to wear a mask properly here with the Singapore Ministry of Health.
These masks can be purchased at any pharmacy and departmental stores in Korea. You may also find them in smaller neighborhood marts (eg. Harmony Mart).
We hope you stay healthy this yellow dust season!
- Written by: Carmen, Class of 15.5, in May 2017