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SEOUL — It was yellow dust, not the predicted snow, that prompted South Korean officials to issue a weather advisory Saturday afternoon, according to local news reports.

The dust storm hit the northern part of the country and U.S. troops at Warrior Base, along the Demilitarized Zone, saw up to 649 micrograms of dust per cubic meter, considered “very unhealthy.”

The dust storms — carrying metals such as lead, cadmium, copper and aluminum — hit the peninsula each spring, but U.S. Forces Korea medical officials have said earlier storms aren’t unheard of.

“Scientific articles indicate that since 1999, the primary months for yellow-dust days in South Korea are March, April and May,” Lt. Col. Eric Lund, 18th Medical Command preventive medicine consultant, told Stripes in an interview in 2007. But they’ve “also occurred in January-February and November-December.”

A fact sheet found on the 18th MEDCOM’s Web site ( details what precautions should be taken based on the amount of dust in the air.

Under Saturday’s high of 649 micrograms at Warrior Base, all personnel are recommended to “cancel prolonged and heavy exertion (and) outdoor activities; limit other outdoor activities to bare essentials.” If the dust rate exceeds 1,000 micrograms, all personnel are recommended to “remain indoors and keep activity levels low.”

People with asthma or heart disease, the young and the elderly should be especially mindful of dust levels, officials have warned.

Up-to-date dust levels on U.S. military bases can be found on the MEDCOM’s Web site.

Medical officials long have warned that the dust particles, measuring one to 10 microns, aggravate bronchitis and cause pinkeye, sinusitis and ear infections. But 18th MEDCOM officials said last year that new studies have shown the dust also can cause respiratory problems, and high particulate air-pollution levels have been linked to higher premature mortality rates.

As of late Sunday afternoon, dust levels were under 100 micrograms per cubic meter of air at all U.S. bases except those in the Pyeongtaek area, including Camp Humphreys and Osan Air Base. Those bases had a count of about 125 micrograms, but the exact number wasn’t posted on the 18th MEDCOM site.

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