Efforts to control the detrimental effects of rapid industrialization, urbanization, and population growth focus on the Office of Environment, established in 1980 to control air, water, and land pollution and manage solid wastes. The Environmental Preservation Law, revised in 1979, covers air, water, and noise pollution, soil preservation, and disposal of solid wastes.
The nation has 64.9 cu km of renewable water resources with 63% used for agriculture and 11% used for industrial purposes. The purity of the nation's water is threatened by agricultural chemicals. In 1990, the nation dumped 10 million tons of sewage and 7 million tons of industrial chemicals into its water sources.
Air pollution, associated mainly with the use of coal briquettes for home heating and the increase in automobile traffic, is also severe, with smog a common problem in Seoul. In the mid-1990s, South Korea had among the world's highest level of industrial carbon dioxide emissions, which totaled 289.8 million metric tons per year, a per capita level of 6.56 metric tons per year. In 1996, the total rose to 408 million metric tons.
The Naktong River delta, a marshland where thousands of birds spend the winter, is threatened by environmental pollution and by plans to dam the mouth of the river. The beginning of construction of the Kumgangsan hydroelectric dam by the DPRK near the DMZ in 1986 was protested by the ROK on the grounds that the central Korean Peninsula could be flooded. In response, the ROK began construction of its own Peace Dam near the DMZ in 1987.
Although 28 species of birds and 8 species of mammals— chipmunk, wild boar, squirrel, raccoon dog, badger, hare, river deer, and roe deer—are still classified as game species, hunting was banned by the government from August 1972 through December 1981, except in such game preserves as that of Cheju Island. In 2001, 6 of Korea's mammal species and 19 bird species were endangered, as were 52 plant species. Endangered species in the ROK include the Amur leopard, Oriental white stork, Japanese crested ibis, and Tristram's woodpecker. The Japanese sea lion has become extinct.