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Toxic Sandstorm Sweeps over Asia
Yellow sand is getting more deadly in Northeast Asia
Tom Pauken II (Pauken)     Print Article 
Published 2007-04-04 06:43 (KST)   
Floating dust carrying heavy metal materials from Chinese factories are invading the lungs of people from the Asia Pacific. The countries most affected are China itself, South and North Korea and Japan. Sandstorms in northwestern China, Mongolia, inner Mongolia and the Gobi Desert are responsible for the spread of this deadly dust.

These seasonal dust storms occur during spring. Scientists have noted that the dust is getting thicker and more polluted each year. The dirty air has spread to further expanses. Observation posts in the U.S. and Europe revealed an increased measurement of dust particles from China. Sandstorms have occurred more frequently due to the desertification of China.

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China Meteorological Administration predicted there will be 11-15 dust storms this year. As of April 3, 2007 the year's worse sandstorm occurred on the weekend of March 31 and April 1. Newspapers from Beijing, Seoul and Tokyo printed graphic pictures of dust blanketing their cities.

It has become a necessity for Chinese, Koreans and Japanese to restrict outdoor activities. Many wear surgical masks because the fatality rates of those with respiratory ailments dramatically increases. Children 12 years and younger and the elderly 65 years and older are warned to take special precautions.

Everyone risks their life if they step outside during a dust storm. The mortality rate in affected regions increases by 1.7 percent. Dust clouds carry a dangerous mix of chemicals; (24-32 percent) silicon, (5.9-7.4 percent) calcium, (6.2-12 percent) iron. Carbon monoxide in the clouds come from coal-fired Chinese power plants, smelters, chemical factories, cars and trucks.

China has earned notoriety for harming the environment. They are the world's second biggest polluter of greenhouse gases. Economists predicts they'll gain the top spot by 2010 and surpass the U.S. Northwestern China has turned into an arid wasteland as shepherds let millions of their goats graze until the grass is gone. China's grasslands have reduced by 15,000 square kilometers each year since the 1980s.

Sixteen of the world's 20 dirtiest cities dwell in China. Polluted particles in Beijing are 50 percent worse than Los Angeles. The Chinese government initiated projects for the reforestation of their deserts but to no avail. Few trees are planted and corruption siphons off money into the bank accounts of local government officials. Nonetheless trees wouldn't survive due to a scarcity of water.

Japan and South Korea's governments offered assistance to improve air quality in China because they can't escape these sandstorms. The Japanese government reported that dust particles have inflicted injury upon their citizens. Korea lies closer to China so face deadlier consequences. Hospitals have admitted an increasing number of patients suffering from bronchitis, pink eye, sinusitis, ear infections, pnemonia, colds, laryngitis, conjunctivitis and respiratory problems.

The U.S. Forces Korea (USFK)and the Korean Meteorological Administration (KMA) predict the dust storms this year will be worse than ever before. Local television stations interrupted their programming with breaking reports urging people to stay indoors, when a sandstorm struck on April 1.

Pharmacies in Seoul reported customers rushing to purchase proper healthcare materials. They bought drugs, eye lotions, skin ointments, mouth wash and masks. One pharmacy sold 300 masks in five hours, although they normally sell 10 per day.

USFK Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. David Valcourt set new guidelines and restrictions for his soldiers during dust storms. "USFK personnel can't conduct outdoor physical training when dust levels exceed 300 micrograms per cubic meter. At 500 micrograms, commanders "Should limit outdoor field training to only the most essential activities and they should minimize the exposure time of service members to unfiltered air." At 1,000 micrograms -- outdoor training is prohibited and all personnel must remain indoors."

The USFK undergoes a reduction of productivity upon the arrival of floating dust particles, as well as many other businesses in Northeast Asia. Fewer people are shopping, employees are calling in sick and some schools shut down.

China's booming economy might suffer if the sandstorms grow worse. They have a strong tourism industry but few would visit Beijing if they can't see a few meters in front of them. Anyway, masks help people breathe but are not fashionable. Getting coated in dust isn't a good fashion statement either. But making drastic changes could hamper their fragile economy. Factories are a major source of pollution but they employ millions of people, who might otherwise succumb to abject poverty.

For China, Korea and Japan, April, 2007 will be a dark and dusty month as meteorologists predict. A cyclone in Mongolia has been wreaking havoc. Those who live in this region have much to fear and those who live in Mongolia, inner Mongolia and northern China will face the brunt of the sandstorms. Most likely the silver lining in a cloud from China would be pollution.
©2007 OhmyNews
Other articles by reporter Tom Pauken II

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