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SEOUL — Dust in the air climbed to levels deemed by military medical officials to be unhealthy for children and senior citizens, according to South Korean and U.S. military meteorological data Monday.

The young, elderly and people with respiratory illness are considered “high risk” and should not exercise outdoors at dust levels above 200 parts per million per cubic meter of air, according to the 18th Medical Command.

Dust levels spiked at 318 parts per million around Camp Humphreys and Osan Air Base on Monday and other areas of South Korea reached above normal levels Monday afternoon.

Less of this winter’s air pollution is due to sulfur dioxide and carbon monoxide because of curbs on heavy industry emissions, said Lt. Col. Eric Lund, preventive medicine consultant for 18th Medical Command, after he spoke with South Korea environment ministry officials.

However, more ozone from vehicles and dust from China and Mongolia have resulted in air pollution levels close to last January’s, Lund said Monday.

“So, the bottom line on air pollution is that air pollution is about the same as previous years,” Lund wrote in an e-mail.

South Koreans typically don’t consider winter as part of the “hwangsa," the persistent yellow dust storms that plague South Korea in the spring.

Yellow dust consists of tiny particles from China and Mongolia that may include heavy metals and substances from factories in those countries.

This week’s pollution isn’t primarily yellow dust-related, said Lund and Park Kang-woo of the Korean Meteorological Administration. However, a warning that went out Dec. 29 was for a yellow dust storm, which occurred about two months ahead of last year’s first storm.

Pollution occurs when winds from the southwest stagnate over the Korean land mass, bringing dust with it. The stagnant air also keeps local emissions airborne.

“It’s like putting a lid on a high air current without any fresh air flowing,” Park said.

The higher pollution levels should last throughout the week but aren’t forecast to last all winter, South Korean forecasters said.

Before June 28, the 18th Medical Command advised all personnel to limit outdoor activity and cancel outdoor physical training when levels reached 300 parts per million. Its Web site still makes that recommendation.

However, the latest U.S. Forces Korea regulation on yellow dust monitoring, issued Nov. 30, calls for limited outdoor exertion at the 400 parts per million level for all personnel and no outdoor activity for those at high risk.

The newer regulation is the correct standard and based on both South Korean and U.S. Environmental Protection Agency standards, Lund said.

In a recent public advisory, the Korean Meteorological Association asked drivers to be more cautious while driving during dusty and foggy conditions.

Hwang Hae-rym contributed to this report.

Rising dust levels

Dust levels above 200 parts per million per cubic meter of air are considered unhealthy for children and senior citizens, according to the 18th Medical Command. Levels above 400 parts per million are considered unhealthy for the general population.

On Monday, the following levels were recorded:

Camp Bonifas/Warrior Base: 220

Kunsan Air Base: 182

Osan Air Base/Camp Humphreys: 318

Yongsan Garrison: 218

Camp Walker/Camp Carroll: 207

Camp Red Cloud/Camp Casey: about 160

Camp Long/Camp Eagle: 162

Chinhae Naval Base: 121

Camp Mu Juk/Pohang: 119

Tracking dustTo track dust conditions in Sought Korea, go to http://www.seoul.amedd.army.mil.

An English-language Web site displaying levels of the five major air pollutants in South Korea can be found at http://eng.airkorea.or.kr/

— Stars and Stripes

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