South Korea is moving to designate fine dust concentrations as a disaster in law, part of its countermeasures to the nation's worsening air pollution problem, officials said Tuesday.
If fine dust pollution is legally recognized as a disaster, the government will work out concrete criteria for damage assessment and support measures, the officials informed of the matter said.
"A new law calling for fine dust concentrations to be included among social disasters has been presented to the National Assembly. It is likely to pass parliament soon," one of the officials said.
A bill for partial revision of the Framework Act on the Management of Disasters and Safety is currently pending in the National Assembly.
The same day, the government enforced emergency measures to reduce fine dust, which has affected most of the nation for the fifth consecutive day.
The government also held a policy coordination meeting with the ruling Democratic Party to discuss concerted efforts to cope with fine dust pollution.
"Experts say the fine dust pollution in recent days was worsened by wind blowing from China and stagnant local air. Whatever the reason, we feel deeply sorry to the people for their inconvenience and agony," Cho Jeong-sik, a chief policymaker of the Democratic Party, said after the coordination meeting with the government.
"Measures have already been taken to regulate the number of vehicles on the roads and particles originating from construction sites. Consultations with China will also be further strengthened on the matter," he said.
The emergency dust reduction measures were taken under the Special Act on Particulate Matter Reduction and Management, which took effect on Feb. 15 this year.
Under the special law, local governments are obliged to take various emergency steps if the daily average level of ultrafine particles smaller than 2.5 micrometers, or PM 2.5, exceeds 50 micrograms per cubic meter and the figure is forecast to top that level again the following day.
If the emergency measures are enforced, heads of local governments have to strictly regulate the operation hours and utilization rates of coal power plants and other large-scale dust emission facilities.
In a related move, the Seoul Metropolitan Office of Education banned outdoor classes and activities at all elementary and secondary schools in the capital all day.
The level of PM 2.5 surged to 145 micrograms per cubic meter as of 10 a.m. in Seoul.
South Korea's authorities have classified levels of PM 2.5 above 35 micrograms per cubic meter as "bad" and above 75 micrograms as "very bad," while the World Health Organization recommends keeping levels below 25 micrograms.(Yonhap)