Wednesday, July 24, 2019

Bangkok air hits ‘code red’ while authorities resist strong measures

Jan 22. 2019
Photo Courtesy of Jor Sor 100 traffic radio: The air pollution condition on Rama II road in Bangkok's Bang Khun Thien district on Tuesday morning.
Photo Courtesy of Jor Sor 100 traffic radio: The air pollution condition on Rama II road in Bangkok's Bang Khun Thien district on Tuesday morning.
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By The Nation

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THE CAPITAL’S air pollution situation became more severe yesterday, as the quantity of the dangerous PM2.5 particles rose to code-red status of above 90 micrograms per cubic metre of air at many locations on the first day that the government agencies started counting

so that if the level remains that high for three consecutive days, drastic measures may be implemented, perhaps including a ban on car use by two million civil servants.

Nearly 10 Bangkok areas were at 7.15am on Tuesday flagged “code red”, which is triggered when inhalable particles with diameters generally sized at or below 2.5 micrometres reach 90 micrograms per cubic metre of air. Another more than 30 areas were designated with the “code-orange” status, which notes that negative health affects are beginning, said a report by the Bangkok Metropolitan Administration (BMA)’s Environment Office's Air Quality Division. 

The safe limit of PM2.5 in Thailand is considered under 50 micrograms of PM2.5 per cubic metre of air, whereas the World Health Organisation pegs it at 25 micrograms.

The red-coded areas included the Thanon Tok Intersection in Bang Kho Laem district with the city’s highest level at 101 micrograms; the roadside area in front of Siam University in Phasi Charoen district with 100 micrograms; the Mahaisawan Intersection in Thon Buri district with 95 micograms; the roadside area in Bang Khun Thien district with 95 micrograms; the roadside area near Bang Phlat District Office with 94 micrograms; and Sanam Luang in Phra Nakhon district with 96 micrograms. 

The BMA report, available on bangkokairquality.com, provides the capital city’s readings for PM10 and PM2.5 levels over the previous 24 hours.

Meanwhile, the Pollution Control Department (PCD) said in its daily update on the PM2.5 situation that 40 areas of Greater Bangkok had on Tuesday morning reported levels of PM2.5 above what is considered safe. Seven roadside locales (each equipped with an air quality-measuring station) were flagged with the code-red status, the PCD said, while attributing it to the lack of rain and absence of strong winds (with winds being under 2 kilometres per hour). The PCD predicted that Wednesday would have better weather with stronger winds, thus possibly lessening the level of PM2.5, although it would remain at “starting to affect health” levels.

The related state agencies are so far standing firm following their conclusion at a Monday meeting that, as PCD director-general Pralong Damrongthai later told reporters, “the smog is still not critical enough to declare the capital a pollution-control area, which might affect tourism and the business sector.”

The agencies were instead recommending other pollution-tackling measures to the Prime Minister including an increase in mobile units to detect vehicles with black exhaust smoke in the inner city; checking the condition of city buses; and intensifying rain-making operations later this week, Pralong told reporters. 

If the level of PM2.5 rose beyond 90 micrograms per cubic metre of air for three consecutive days, more intense controls on road traffic and construction sites would be imposed, Pralong said.

Those controls could include a measure to reduce a number of cars on road, beginning with a request to civil servants and state personnel to avoid using their personal cars.

If more intensive measures failed to curb pollution, a controlled area announcement under the Public Health Act may be issued by the Bangkok governor, Pralong said on Monday.

More drastic measures are available and could be triggered, such as declaring the capital a “pollution control area” under Article 9 of the Promotion and Conservation of National Environmental Quality Act. But Pralong said that would be a last resort, as it would yield negative impacts.

Despite the gradualist approach being taken, Pralong insisted that the highest priority of state agencies continued to be the people’s health.

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