A South Korean, sick of sucking in polluted air — literally — has sued the Chinese and South Korean government for their inaction concerning the environment.
Choi Yul, president of the Korean Green Foundation along with his attorney Ahn Kyung-jae, motivated five other individuals to lodge a joint lawsuit against Seoul and Beijing on Wednesday for physical and mental damages caused by the “fine dust” particles filling the air.
Fine particulate matter can cause health risks if inhaled and can increase risks of heart and lung diseases, according to the World Health Organization. The petitioners submitted documents that showed Ahn was diagnosed with asthma after hiking Mount Bongui, late last month when air pollution levels were high.
“Our bodies are being harmed because of the ineffectiveness of our government; because of their inaction and carelessness, we suffer,” Yu told the Guardian. “The pollution has affected my family, my son is coughing, I’m also coughing, and I feel the smog caused this. I am suing as a victim.”
Each of the plaintiffs are demanding 3 million South Korean won ($2647) in compensation, but they say the money is only symbolic — what they really want to accomplish is to induce the two governments to reduce toxic smog, a result of too much dependency on carbon fuels and millions of cars.
Initially, the environmentalist filed the case to the Seoul Central District Court against China only.
"The extent of air pollution caused by fine dust has reached unbearable levels. As a member of the international community, China bears responsibility to keep air pollutants under control. But, it has failed to do so,” they said in the petition.
Northern China is frequently obscured with thick clouds of smog which is linked to almost 33 percent of all deaths in the country. Although China has taken note of the problem, many believe progress is too slow.
Meanwhile South Korea’s air has gotten filthy over the last few years and its neighbor, China, has been burdened with much of the blame, particularly since yellow — and sometimes radioactive — dust blows in over the border from China’s deserts.
"As a member of the international community, China has the obligation to control pollutants at an acceptable level," the plaintiffs charged, claiming that China had neglected this duty.
However, health experts have pointed out that South Korea should also take on some of the blame for the worsening air quality because of his dependability on diesel fuels and coal factories.
"What you have is the combination of what is being generated within Seoul and within the broader, very industrial environment of Korea, added onto by transport of pollution from China," Dr. Jonathan Samet, an epidemiologist who heads the Institute for Global Health at the University of Southern California, said. “So, yes, Koreans can point the finger at China — but you know it has to be pointed internally as well.”
In fact, Professor Kim Dong-sool at Kyung Hee University said China is to be blamed for only 30 percent of fine particulate matter.
“Most of the pollutants come from our living environment but the government has been blaming cars, China and even cooking mackerel fish for years,” he said.
However, experts believe Korea should shut down its coal-powered plants and invest in new and eco-friendly alternatives to reduce the harmful emissions.
And now Choi and Ahn are suing their own country too, accusing the government of not adequately informing the public of the cause of the low air quality in the Seoul.
“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,” they said in the petition.
“The Korean Constitution states every man has the right to pursue happiness, and the air pollution issue is demonstrating the government is failing to deliver that to the people," they added.