CAMP HENRY, South Korea -- “Korea gets an unwelcomed guest each spring"yellow dust. Many people are not familiar with the dangers of yellow dust, but they should be careful because it can be very dangerous,” said Lt. Col. Alan Davis, 19th Expeditionary Sustainment Command Surgeon Cell.
The annual yellow sand spring storms originate in China’s Gobi Desert before sweeping south to cover the Korean peninsula. Meteorologists discovered that the storms have been increasing in frequency and toxicity over the years due to China’s economic growth.
These storms are blamed for a number of deaths each year along with billions of dollars in damage in South Korea. The state-sponsored Korea Environment Institute stated the sand storms kill around 165 South Koreans each year, most of these being elderly citizens with respiratory ailments.
“In sufficient concentration, the fine particles can obscure visibility, irritate soft tissues in the eyes, nose, mouth and throat and cause or exacerbate respiratory and cardiovascular problems,” said Charles Ryan, 19th ESC Safety director.
The dust picks up heavy metals, industrial waste and carcinogens, such as dioxin, as it sweeps over the Chinese industrial regions before hitting the Korean peninsula.
“According to Operation Order 101-11, individuals should wash objects exposed to dust, wash fruits and vegetables prior to consumption and consume water to adequately flush out the system,” said Davis. “They should also ensure that windows and doors are shut, remove contact lenses and wear glasses and wash hands and face upon reentry to the home or work.”
The order details three conditions of yellow sand: green, amber and red.
A green condition is maintained under normal conditions with sand concentrations less than 400 micrograms per cubic meter.
An amber condition is issued when concentrations exceed 400 micrograms per cubic meter. During these periods, commanders are advised to limit outdoor field training to only the most essential activities and minimize the exposure time of service members to unfiltered air.
“Reactions to yellow sand tend to be worse for people who smoke, so smokers should be especially careful when conducting outdoor activities,” Davis said.
When yellow sand concentrations exceed 800 micrograms per cubic meter, a red condition is issued. Once a red condition is issued, all outdoor field training exercises should be conducted indoors, canceled or delayed until yellow sand levels are reduced.
“Each morning and lunch time would be a good time for leaders and commanders to check the yellow sand warnings to protect the health of their Soldiers, civilians and family members,” Ryan said.
People feeling sick should contact the Troop Medical Clinic or their unit medics immediately.
Individuals can monitor yellow sand conditions by calling their safety office or by visiting http://www.korea.amedd.army.mil/webapp/yellowsand/default.asp.