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SEOUL — Yellow dust spiked to unhealthy levels in South Korea last week, the first of what could be many unseasonal storms this winter, Korea Meteorological Administration officials said.

Yellow dust storms usually hit South Korea in the spring, covering the country in a yellowish haze and causing respiratory problems in some people.

But KMA researcher Im Jae-chul said global warming is increasing the amount of desert in Asia, and in turn, increasing the number of sandstorms that blow from central Asia to South Korea.

“Yellow dust sandstorms are no longer happening seasonally,” he said. “They can hit any time, even in winter.”

Yellow dust levels spiked to 284 micrograms per cubic meter at U.S. Army Garrison-Yongsan on Tuesday before falling to trace levels on Thursday.

A reading between 200 and 399 micrograms is considered unhealthy, and personnel at high risk are supposed to limit all outdoor exertion until dust levels fall. All other personnel are supposed to reduce prolonged, heavy exertion.

By Tuesday night, dust levels at Yongsan had fallen below 100 micrograms per cubic meter into the good range. Dust levels rose slightly on Wednesday to about 130 micrograms per cubic meter, considered moderate, and fell to almost zero on Thursday. The levels increased to about 50 on Friday.

Dust levels — which can be found at www.seoul.amedd.army.mil — followed the same pattern at most other U.S. military installations, with a few showing rising dust levels on Friday afternoon.

USFK medical officials could not be reached for comment on Friday.

South Korea has been hit with 10 yellow dust storms in the winter months — December, January and February — in the past 10 years, according to a statement KMA issued on Tuesday.

But the storms will hit South Korea more frequently this year because of drought and unusually high temperatures in Mongolia, Inner Mongolia and Manchuria, the agency said.

The dust contains industrial metals including lead, cadmium, copper and aluminum that can irritate eyes, nose, mouth, throat and lungs. Particles can aggravate bronchitis and cause pinkeye, sinusitis and ear infections.

Children, the elderly and people with lung diseases such as asthma, heart disease and diabetes are especially at risk for dust-related health problems. Studies have shown that the dust can worsen an already-present illness.

The pollution has also been linked to higher mortality rates, according to studies. During the storms, which typically occur between February and June and peak in the spring, people should limit outdoor activity.

In the worst storms, people should take such steps that include brushing teeth and washing hands when they come indoors, and using air filters.

The dust can travel as far as the United States, crossing over Japan and parts of Russia.

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