Sunday, March 15, 2009

Yellow Dust

As I was immersing myself in my yellow comforters, luxuriating in my laziness of my day off, in the back of my mind a little voice has been pestering me to get off my lazy butt and do something productive with myself. First thing I did when I woke up this morning was to put on my work out clothes witch is typically half the battle, however, I remembered that my Ipod was dead, and as I was planning on a rather long run, I decided I should wait until it was charged enough to last. I plugged it in and jumped back in bed into the sea of yellow covers. Yes! ("but eventually you will have to get out of this bed" said the voice in the back of my head) I did get out of bed, but for lunch. As we were coming back from lunch, we noticed several of the kids covering their mouths. "Weird kids!" we said, but it struck us as odd that so many of them were doing it, so we stopped some of the Korean staff to ask them about it. They told us something about 'yellow dust' which I understood to be pollen. "Koreans can be so paranoid" someone said as I nodded my head in agreement. Nestling back into my indented bed, I decided, 3 hours from now, I will do the deed, go for my run. As I was preparing, and procrastinating for the run, I checked my email which alerted me that the yellow dust comes in from China and outdoor activity should be avoided on days when it's count is high. Score! No run- but that doesn't mean I can't do stairs inside does it... man, I can't find a valid excuse.

Yellow dust (More info from good old wiki!)

Asian Dust (also yellow dust, yellow sand, yellow wind, or China dust storms) is a seasonal meteorological phenomenon which affects much of East Asia sporadically during the springtime months. The dust originates in the deserts of Mongolia and northern China and Kazakhstan where high-speed surface winds and intense dust storms kick up dense clouds of fine, dry soil particles. These clouds are then carried eastward by prevailing winds and pass over China, North and South Korea, and Japan, as well as parts of the Russian Far East. Sometimes, the airborne particulates are carried much further, in significant concentrations which affect air quality as far east as the United States.

In the last decade or so, it has become a serious problem due to the increase of industrial pollutants contained in the dust and intensified desertification in China causing longer and more frequent occurrences, as well as in the last few decades when the Aral Sea of Kazakhstan started drying up due to a failed Soviet agricultural scheme.


Sulphur (an acid rain component), soot, ash, carbon monoxide, and other toxic pollutants including heavy metals (such as mercury, cadmium, chromium, arsenic, lead, zinc, copper) and other carcinogens, often accompany the dust storms, as well as viruses, bacteria, fungi, pesticides, antibiotics, asbestos, herbicides, plastic ingredients, combustion products as well as hormone mimicking phthalates. Though scientists have known that intercontinental dust plumes can ferry bacteria and viruses, "most people had assumed that the [sun's] ultraviolet light would sterilize these clouds," says microbiologist Dale W. Griffin, also with the USGS in St. Petersburg. "We now find that isn't true." [1]


Areas affected by the dust experience decreased visibility and the dust is known to cause a variety of health problems, not limited to sore throat and asthma in otherwise healthy people. Often, people are advised to avoid or minimize outdoor activities, depending on severity of storms. For those already with asthma or respiratory infections, it can be fatal. The dust has been shown to increase the daily mortality rate in one affected region by 1.7%.

Although sand itself is not necessarily harmful to soil, due to sulphur emissions and the resulting acid rain, the storms also destroy farmland by degrading the soil, and deposits of ash and soot and heavy metals as well as potentially dangerous biomatter blanket the ground with contaminants including croplands, aquifers, etc. The dust storms also affect wildlife particularly hard, destroying crops, habitat, and toxic metals interfering with reproduction. Coral are hit particularly hard. Toxic metals progagate up the food chain, from fish to higher mammals. Air visibility is reduced, including canceled flights, ground travel, outdoor activities, and can be correlated to significant loss of economic activity. Japan has reported washed clothes stained yellow.

Korea Times has reported it costing 3 million won, 6000 gallons of water, and 6 hours to simply clean one jumbo jet.

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