Yellow dust storm forecast raises health concerns
May 1, 2006
SEOUL — South Korean meteorologists predicted a yellow dust storm would creep across the South Korean central region on Sunday and blanket the country by Monday, according to a Yonhap News report released Saturday.
The annual spring dust storms carry dangerous heavy metals — including lead, cadium, copper and aluminum — from the Gobi Desert in northern China and southern Mongolia, according to South Korean and U.S. officials.
The U.S. military community is urged to monitor American Forces Network television or radio for updates on any health concerns. And as part of a recently revamped notification process, English-language charts measuring the dust threat at all of the U.S. bases in South Korea can be found on various command Web sites, including U.S. Forces Korea, the 8th U.S. Army and the 18th MEDCOM (www.seoul.amedd.army.mil).
U.S. officials have said they consider 301-500 parts per million in a cubic meter of air a “hazardous” health concern. On April 8, a heavy dust storm hit Seoul, sending pollution levels soaring over 2,200 parts per million.
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 Medical Command officials recently said new studies have shown the dust also can cause respiratory problems, and high particulate air-pollution levels have been linked to higher mortality rates. A recent study by South Korean, Chinese and Mongolian researchers — conducted amid concerns about the dust storms — showed children living in Inner Mongolia have less lung capacity than children living on South Korea’s Jeju Island.
Personnel at high risk — including young children, the elderly, anyone with heart disease or those with lung disease, such as asthma — should stay indoors during the storms, U.S. medical officials have said.
The medical officials also urge military commanders to use precaution with even the healthiest of troops. The 18th MEDCOM offers an information card on its Web site to explain recommended activity restrictions. On that card, medical officials defined “heavy exertion” for troops as walking on hard surfaces at 3.5 mph while carrying a 40-pound load, walking on loose sand at 2.5 mph with the same load, and conducting field assaults and running.
Both the card and the Web site urge commanders to “identify soldiers at high risk and take additional protective measures” and “include Yellow Dust conditions in risk assessment for training events.”
What you can do during dust storms:
Avoid outdoor activities, especially for the elderly, young children and those with asthma or other airway diseases.
Keep windows and doors closed.
Remove contact lenses and wear glasses.
Brush your teeth and wash your hands, face and eyes with warm water upon returning indoors.
Drink plenty of water to keep your tears flowing.
Use air filters to keep air cleaner and humidifier to increase humidity levels.
Wash dust off fruit and vegetables before consuming.
Wash hands before preparing food.
What can you do after the dust storms?Air out your room/house.
Carefully wash exposed objects before using.
Courtesy of the 18th Medical Command