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China only partly to blame for Seoul’s air pollution

Seoul recorded 53 days last year when the air was unhealthy for sensitive groups to breathe. (Christopher Swope)

Seoul residents are often quick to blame the city’s filthy air on neighboring China. After all, pollution levels are much higher there, and drifting smog doesn’t recognize international borders.

Elise Hu reports for NPR’s Morning Edition that there’s some truth to the perception: China is partly to blame. But the haze that routinely envelops Seoul isn’t entirely China’s fault — South Korea also bears responsibility.

“South Korea’s reliance on coal plants and diesel fuel for its vehicles contributes to local pollution,” the article says. The nation plans to add a dozen coal plants to the 50 it has over the next five years. The result of these policies has been an upswing in the number of days when the air is unhealthy for sensitive groups. In 2015, Seoul recorded 53 such days. By contrast, Los Angeles, one of America’s most polluted cities, experienced only seven unhealthy air days last year.

Despite Seoul’s deteriorating air quality, many residents and officials are in denial, NPR reports. The local media avoids suggestions of a chronic problem or crisis, instead focusing on short-term preventative measures during pollution spikes. While government officials have proposed the closure of aged coal plants, the same officials want to open newer coal facilities.


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