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Some profit off national annoyance of fine dust
  • By Constance Williams
  • Approval 2017.05.18 16:19
  • comments 0

It’s an ill wind that blows nobody any good, indeed: With the dust storm suffocating the Korean Peninsula every spring, some companies are profiting off the seasonal annoyance, releasing products marketed as protection from fine dust.

According to the Ministry of Environment, the concentration level of fine dust was at its worst in the first quarter of 2017, at 32 micrograms per cubic meter, up 2 micrograms from the same quarters of 2015 and 2016.

Winds across the Gobi Desert occasionally pick up sand and dust particles before scattering along densely populated cities further south. The storms usually pass through the Korean Peninsula, dragging down air quality and visibility and prompting health risks.

Many in South Korea blame pollutants drifting in from China, but experts say much – at least more than half -- of the pollution is homegrown coming from vehicle emissions and coal-fired power plants. Energy officials are pushing to build even more coal-powered stations.

It is against this backdrop that President Moon Jae-in is keeping his campaign promise, taking steps against the country’s choking pollution problem by shutting down aging coal-burning plants.

“President Moon’s order to suspend the coal power plants’ operation shows his strong will to come up with fundamental solutions to the fine dust problem by putting it on the national agenda,” said a spokesperson for the presidential Blue House.

Moon also ordered the creation of a fine dust task force, which he will personally oversee, the spokesman added.

Until the new government’s anti-dust steps produce effects, however, Koreans will have to learn to live with the smog.

It is a small surprise then many people are seeking out ways to help protect their health. Companies are developing products and services to cater to different needs of consumers. These products have become more practical, personalized, and even fashionable as they offer customers more than just protection.

Gmarket, the first Korean online shopping site, conducted a survey of 846 customers from April 14-20 with the question, “Have you ever purchased a fine dust-related product?” Up to 75 percent said “yes,” with more than half spending up to 200,000 won ($177).

Encouraged by rising demand, online retailer Coupang also created a “Spring Season Fine Dust Impenetrable Defense” category, which consists of 170 products, ranging from vacuum cleaners, dust-proof bed linens and curtains, and individualized hygiene supplies.

In March, sports casual brand North Face released a series of “Anti-Yellow Dust Jackets” made of fabric that reduces static electricity, and consequently the absorption of fine dust.

Although the most popular products purchased for protecting against fine dust were face masks and hand sanitizers, cosmetics, and drug sales are also rising.

Dong-A Pharmaceutical, for example, officially launched the No. 1 Japanese eye wash brand “Eye Bong” last March, based on the concept to remove contaminants. The increasing interest in eye care dust has led the product to run out of stock, recording sales of 4 billion won ($3.5 million) in 10 months.

“Eye Bong,” a Japanese eye-cleansing agent, is enjoying sharp sales growth by helping to ease harms of fine dust.

“I’m always scared to go out when the fine dust settles in the air because my eyes get irritated easily,” said an Internet blogger as she reviewed Eye Bong. “My eyes felt refreshed after using it, and I can easily tell the difference with or without it. I’m very satisfied with the results.”

Mundipharma Korea released Betadine Throat Spray last year, marketed to prevent viruses and bacteria resulting from fine dust, which forced an increasing number of people to complain about sore throats.

According to the Health Insurance Review and Assessment Service, the number of patients who visited the hospital by acute pharyngitis, laryngitis, and tracheitis in 2015 amounted to about 2.5 million in spring, apparently resulting from fine dust.

connie@docdocdoc.co.kr

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