With pollution levels in Seoul becoming unbearable at times, a group of at least 88 South Koreans are suing Beijing for its contribution to the “fine dust” that causes a host of health problems among residents of Korea’s capital.
Leading the lawsuit is the president of the South Korean Green Foundation Choi Yul and attorney Ahn Kyung-jae, both of whom helped lead a similar lawsuit against Beijing in April.
After the original lawsuit was dropped, Ahn and Choi redoubled their efforts as more concerned citizens joined the fight. South Korean news agency Yonhap reports that the dozens of plaintiffs filed a new lawsuit with the Seoul Central District Court on Wednesday. This time, they have raised the stakes, demanding 3 million won ($2,600) each in compensation for the “mental distress” caused by dust and industrial pollutant particles drifting over the border from China.
Because of this massive cloud of “fine dust,” the South Korean government issued a health warning back in January to eight cities across Gyeonggi Province which surrounds Seoul.
“Vulnerable people such as children, the elderly and patients with respiratory problems should stay inside, restrict outdoor activities and wear masks outside,” the warning said, according to the South China Morning Post. “We ban preschools, daycare centers and elementary schools from having outdoor classes until the warning is lifted.”
Several factors contribute to the alarming levels of dust in Korea’s air. According to TIME, seasonal sandstorms from the Gobi Desert worsen Beijing’s pollution levels and can impact Seoul’s as well. The dust mingles with smog and other man-made contaminants to create near-uninhabitable conditions. This particularly hurts elderly citizens, children, and those with respiratory or immune problems — in both countries. Earlier this month the Gobi’s power was in full effect when a massive sandstorm engulfed one-sixth of China, causing the air quality index to go off the charts in some areas of northern China.
Choi and Ahn point to China as the source of their bad air. Back in April, they demanded that the Chinese government account for its role in ensuring global health and safety. “As a member of the international community, China has the obligation to control pollutants at an acceptable level,” they said.
However, the lawsuit doesn’t stop with China. Yonhap reports that the plaintiffs have also blamed the Seoul government for the decline in the country’s air quality.
“The purpose of this suit is to find out the cause of fine dust and to set a milestone for the two countries to lead Asia in the new era based on mutual efforts,” the plaintiffs said last month, accusing their country of hiding the true source of the pollution.
Despite South Korea’s tendency to blame China, NPR speculates that the country’s increased dependence on coal and fossil fuels may have more to do with the air pollution than sand from the Gobi. Last year, NASA conducted a study to determine how much of South Korea’s pollution comes from neighboring China and how much is produced domestically. The conclusion? Both countries are to blame.
While relations may have improved a bit recently, China and South Korea are still embroiled in a bitter dispute over the installation of the US-backed THAAD missile defense system. When Choi and Ahn announced their lawsuit last month, Chinese netizens reacted with predictable derision.
“Why don’t you use THAAD to intercept the smog?” asked one Weibo user. “No one is forcing you to breathe, you can choose to die,” suggested another. “It really has caused mental distress, just look they are all retarded,” wrote one more netizen.
By Caroline Roy
[Images via AFP]
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