Return of the YELLOW DUST

Hello hope you had a great weekend.

My weekend was great apart from one thing…the return of dreaded fine dust! The past few weeks the weather and air quality has been great. I’ve been able to go hiking, go for runs outside, and just enjoy spending time outdoors. That all changed on Friday. I watched all day at work as the level of fine dust (pm2.5) crept up and up. On Saturday the level remained unhealthy all day. Sunday was the same, forcing us to put off our weekend runs (our gym is closed on the weekends). At 9pm on Sunday night the air quality finally dropped to 50 (healthy)…at which point I thought, f@k it let’s get the long run done now! Bad idea- the body takes a few hours to calm down after intense exercise…so here I am sitting here at my desk Monday afternoon, trying not to fall asleep.

TIP: Don’t go for a long run at 9pm!!


Back to yellow dust/fine dust/hwangsa (in Korean).

What is yellow dust?

If you haven’t been to Asia you probably have never heard of yellow dust. Before we came to South Korea we had never heard of it- and ended up finding out for ourselves the hard way. Yellow dust is very fine toxic particles in the air. It plagues South Korean year round, but particularly in the spring.

Where does it come from?

My Korean co-workers say that the fine particle pollution comes from springtime dust storms originating in Northern China and Mongolia. This dust then mixes with heavy pollution in China and gets blown into Korea. These dust storms have been happening for thousands of years.

In 2015, however, Greenpeace found that 50 to 70 percent of yellow dust came from South Korea’s coal power plants. South Korea relies heavily on old, outdated coal power plants as a major source of energy.

Why is it harmful?

Yellow dust is so harmful because the toxic particles are ultra-small and therefore able to penetrate deep into the respiratory organs and blood vessels. Short-term exposure can cause dry eyes and sore throats but long-term exposure can lead to serious illness like lung cancer, respiratory diseases, stroke, and heart disease.

It wasn’t until my first long run in South Korea this past spring that I learned of its effects. It was a particularly dusty day in May, but I had no idea because I wasn’t aware of the yellow dust tracking websites yet. After a 1h+ long run in yellow dust pm2.5 measuring 100+ (unhealthy), we both got sick with bad cold/flu like symptoms. That’s when realized that this yellow dust is serious business. That point was definitely a wake-up call. Since then we’ve been carefully monitoring the dust levels on the app AirVisual and taking some extra measures to make sure we don’t get sick from toxic air again.



If you are new to Korea or have been here a while, here’s how we’ve learned to keep up exercise despite the dust:

  • Monitor the air quality levels on AirVisual (make sure you are checking the US measurement). For some reason is no longer working for South Korea, so we now use this app instead.
  • Don’t run outside if the pm2.5 is over 70.
  • If the air quality is 50-70, we recommend wearing a mask with at least 80KF filter and keeping the intensity low
  • If the air quality is under 50- get longer runs/more intense training done outdoors
  • If levels are 70+ exercise indoors
  • If levels are 100+ stay indoors all together
  • Shower immediately after exposure to yellow dust (it can cling to your skin, hair, clothes etc.)


I hope this post helped to shed some light on this important issue. If you are dealing with similar problems, we hope these tips can help you to stay fit.

If not, enjoy the fresh air wherever you are!

Until next time,


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