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Yellow Sand-Dust, HwangSa

Yellow Sand-Dust, HwangSa

Yellow Sand or Yellow Dust is also known as HwangSa in Korean

Q. What is Yellow Sand/Dust?
Known more commonly as yellow dust by most of the foreign community, it is basically inhalable particles that originate from the dry desert regions of China and Mongolia. There has been yellow dust coming from these regions to Korea for many generations. However, due to the deforestation that has occurred in Mongolia and China, along with the increased industrialization and resulting pollution in China, the yellow dust storms have been occurring with increasing frequency and with greater and greater negative effects. For the past few years, the dust storms often carry oxides (aluminium, calcium, iron, magnesium, potassium and silicon) and toxic waste thus increasing the risks of respiratory and skin reactions.

Q. What are the effects of yellow dust?
In sufficient concentration, the fine particles can obscure visibility, irritate soft tissues in the eyes, nose, mouth and throat. Because of the high concentration of minerals and other pollutants, it can cause or exacerbate respiratory and cardiovascular problems. Pinkeye is a common side effect in both adults and children. The dust can also damage sensitive equipment, such as computers, etc.

Q. When do yellow dust storms occur?
Although they used to occur mainly in Spring (March, April, May), yellow sand events are now being reported in all seasons, including winter. Some years are worse than others. It takes on average 2 or 3 days for a dust storm to reach Korea. The first yellow dust report in 2015 occurred in February with readings hovering between Hazardous and Very Unhealthy.

Q. Are there any warnings or forecasts?
KMA Forecasts: The Korea Meteorological Association provides forecast images on the English section of their website. Although there is some English on the site, most of the information pertaining to regions around the peninsula is in Korean only. (Note: site works best with Internet Explorer)

Text Messages: Some cell phone providers send a text message when a yellow dust storm is coming. To see if your provider has this service and if yes, to sign up for it, dial 114 on your cell phone. The process is in Korean only, however, as are the advisory messages. 

Seoul City Text Messages:  The City of Seoul also sends out a text message when pollutant levels rise above 200. These are in Korean only but can be recognised if you can read a little Korean. To receive this service you must first register through the city's homepage - in Korean only.  Click on 로그인 and then 회원가입하기 and follow the instructions. After you are registered on the Seoul City homepage, go to the City’s air quality website, look on the right of the homepage near the middle to  find 알림창,  click on '1' then on  대기질정보 문자서비스 받아보기 and then 문자서비스 신청하기. There are a number of different message services you can sign up for here. The one for the yellow dust messages is number 3. Korean friends and colleagues are usually very willing to help you out or you can visit one of the Seoul Global Village Centers.

Korea has a three-tiered warning system run by the KMA and carried by local media (usually in Korean-only, however).
1. At the lowest level of warning, the elderly, children and people with respiratory issues are advised to stay. Everyone should avoid strenuous physical activity outdoors.
2. At the second level, the elderly, children and those with respiratory issues as well as kindergarten and elementary students should remain indoors. Everyone should avoid any strenuous outdoor activity and, if possible, remain indoors.
3. At the highest level, the most vulnerable groups mentioned above must remain indoors. The general public is advised to remain indoors. It is recommended that outdoor events be postponed. Those going outside should wear protective glasses, a mask and long-sleeves.

Q. What should people do to combat the effects of Yellow Dust? (as per Korean experts)
During a Yellow Sand/Dust Storm, you should

  • Avoid outdoor activities, this applies especially to the elderly, young children and persons with heart disease, diabetes and lung diseases or respiratory problems, such as asthma.
  • Keep windows and doors closed.
  • Remove contact lenses and wear your glasses instead, the dust can scratch your lenses and damage your eyes.
  • Brush your teeth and wash your hands, face and eyes with warm water when returning indoors.
  • Drink plenty of water to keep your tears flowing well and prevent skin dehydration.
  • Use air filters to keep air clear and a humidifier to increase the humidity level inside your home/office.
  • Wash fruits and vegetables that may have been exposed to yellow dust before eating them.
  • Eat vitamin-rich and high-protein foods to help stabilise your immune system
  • Avoid spicy foods, smelly fish and excessive drinking.
  • Wear long sleeves as often as possible when outside.
  • Remove and wash clothing as soon as possible after coming in from outdoors.
  • Avoid walking in the rain if possible.
  • Wash your hands carefully before handling food.
  • Avoid burning candles or smoking indoors
  • Light showers are recommended rather than long, hot baths
  • After the yellow dust/sand storm has cleared, air out the house and wash any exposed object before using it, including your car.
  • Even after the storm passes, be careful since the dust has settled and can easily be stirred by movement, wind, etc.

Q. What are some of the things we can buy to combat the effects of yellow dust?

  • Masks (best to use those designed for yellow dust and approved by the Korea Food and Drug Administration (KFDA) or 식약청 (Shik-yak-cheong) in Korean.  It usually says Yellow Dust Mask somewhere on the package, in Korean, it’s 황사마스크 . These masks are one-time use only (not great for the environment but we haven't found any yet that are not disposable - to re-use is to breathe in the dust from the previous use - to wash is to render the filter useless apparently). 
  • Baby carriage covers
  • Hwangto (yellow earth) paste packs for skin care
  • Strips to seal up windows and doors

Q. How can I find out what the level of yellow dust is today?
1. On this page to the right: To find out the current levels of yellow sand, look to the right of your screen for the Yellow Sand box  (located right under the weather in Seoul box) or U.S. Military dust graph or the Korean Meteorological Administration. The KMA gives information on the different regions in Korea - Gwanaksan is Seoul and also issues an advisory when levels reach 400 and a warning when they are at 800.

2. English KMA*(weather) weather information service. You can ask about the current weather, the weather forecast, yellow dust (referred to by KMA as Asian dust), and even global weather. Call 131 then press 9. You will be connected to a customer service representative who will give you the weather, Asian (yellow) dust update for various areas of Korea. Hours: Hours 9:00 - 18:00 Monday-Friday / Closed 12:00- 13:00 and weekends

3. Air Korea - real time weather information around the peninsula. Information on the website in English. No need to join or log in on this site. 

4. Text message alerts -
The City of Seoul also offers a text message service to alert you when pollutant levels rise over 200. These messages come in Korean. Signing up for this service requires some fluency in Korean and one must be registered on the City of Seoul homepage first. If you are registered on the city's homepage, you then go to the clean air website to register for dust level alerts. (Probably still best to access them via Internet Explorer).

K4E Editor: tries to ensure that the information we provide is accurate and complete, so should you notice any errors or omissions in the content above please contact us at

Last Updated on 2015-03-24

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