Unveiling the Truth Behind Blast Furnace Pollution in South Korea

Globally, the complex and energy-intensive process of steelmaking is a major contributor to air pollution and carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions. Being based in the 6th largest steel-producing country, South Korean steel plants are responsible for the emission of many pollutants and greenhouse gases (GHG), with about 70% of steel production being dependent on coal-based Blast Furnace-Basic Oxygen Furnace (BF-BOF) routes.

In this joint report, Solutions for Our Climate (SFOC) and CREA assessed the air quality and health impacts of South Korean steel BF-BOF facilities. When South Korea’s three integrated BF-BOF steel plants are simultaneously operating, their emissions can cause the annual average near-surface concentration of nitrogen dioxide (NO2) to increase by up to 1.5 μg/m3, sulfur dioxide (SO2) by 1.22 μg/m3, and particulate matter (PM2.5) by 0.4 μg/m3.

Air pollution from South Korea’s three BF-BOF plants was related to approximately 506 premature deaths in 2021. That year, the economic cost of increased health spending and loss of productive work hours due to exposure to air pollution from the plants is estimated at KRW 3.4 trillion (USD 2.95 billion).

Of the modelled plants, contribution to health impacts was found to be the highest in the POSCO Gwangyang plant, followed by POSCO Pohang and Hyundai Steel Dangjin plant, respectively.

Under South Korea’s Current Policy scenario and without additional emission control interventions, pollution from BF-BOF route steel production will result in 19,400 cumulative premature deaths from 2022 to 2050. The associated cumulative economic burden is estimated at KRW 127 trillion (USD 111 billion).

While approximately 75% of the health impacts of BF-BOF pollution are borne within South Korea, air pollution transmission from the steel plants could impact the air quality and health in neighboring countries as well.

Analysis shows that the implementation of South Korea’s 2050 carbon neutrality roadmap (NZ2050) would avoid 9,300 cumulative premature deaths from integrated BF-BOF steel plants. Improving steel consumption, production efficiency and utilizing hydrogen in addition to the proposed NZ2050 efforts (NZ2050_Eff) would avoid an additional 500 premature deaths and would yield the highest savings, decreasing the economic cost of air pollution from BF-BOF steel plants to approximately KRW 63 trillion (USD 55 billion) from 2022 to 2050.

The report is available in English and on the SFOC website in Korean.

Geunha Kim, SFOC; Isabella Suarez, CREA; David Ecal, CREA

Partners: Solutions for Our Climate (SFOC)

South Korea