By PRATCH RUJIVANAROM
A woman wears a face mask as heavy air pollution continues to be a problem in Bangkok, Thailand, 21 January 2019. // EPA-EFE PHOTO
AS AIR pollution in Bangkok worsens this week and there are few signs of official measures offering relief, many academics called on the government yesterday to declare the capital a pollution-control zone, so related agencies can enforce stricter legal measures to limit emissions and protect people’s health.
Sonthi Kotchawat, independent environmental health expert, emphasised that the government already has the legal tools to swiftly order powerful mitigation measures needed to fight the dangerous smog and protect the population. Article 9 of the Enhancement and Conservation of National Environmental Quality Act could designate the capital a “pollution-control area” and allow actions that would reduce pollution.
Sonthi said in the case of a pollution emergency, in which people’s health and well-being is harmed, the prime minister can directly exercise this law. He could alternatively authorise the provincial governor of each locality to order stakeholders to reduce environmental impacts and control pollution, so as to swiftly mitigate the problem and ensure public safety. According to the Pollution Control Department, 12 areas in Thailand have been designated as pollution-control zones. They include Map Ta Phut Industrial Estate in Rayong, Pattaya City in Chon Buri, tambon Na Phra Lan in Saraburi and Phi Phi Islands in Krabi.
Sonthi also added that authorities could apply the Public Health Act to urgently tackle the health threats from PM2.5 particulates. That law allows local authorities in an area suffering from pollution or other threats to public health to declare a control zone in order to facilitate mitigation and prevention measures.
Thammarat Phutthai, a lecturer at Mahidol University’s Faculty of Environment and Resource Studies, noted that the efforts by authorities to hose down roads and spray water in the air have been unable to solve the pollution problem.
He suggested that authorities instead prioritise enforcing strict measures to limit the use of diesel engine vehicles, and issuing preventive measures such as school closures and the suspension of outdoor events to protect people’s health. That can be achieved by declaring Bangkok a pollution-control zone.
Polluted all year round
Witsanu Attavanich, a Kasetsart University economics lecturer, insisted that authorities take Bangkok’s air pollution problem seriously, as his observations on the PM10 and PM2.5 levels in the capital over the past 10 years shows that pollution from fine dust particles in the air is not a seasonal problem. He said the capital faces bad-air quality all year round.
“My study of the historic records of air pollution levels from 2009 until 2018 confirmed that the level of PM2.5 in Bangkok spikes to a very harmful level every December, January and February,” Witsanu said. “But it also found that the PM2.5 level in the city, especially in the areas along the streetside, always stays above the World Health Organisation [WHO]’s safe limit all year, which can cause negative impacts to people health.”
Smog lingers over the Chaopraya river as heavy air pollution continues to be a problem in Bangkok, Thailand, 21 January 2019. // EPA-EFE PHOTO
Witsanu noted that even though the level of PM2.5 in the rest of the year mainly remained within Thailand’s safe standards, and was thus considered by authorities to be harmless, he insisted that in order to ensure the public’s well-being, the WHO’s safety guidelines should be applied.
“The study concludes that no matter what time of the year it is, people in Bangkok are not safe from air pollution,” he said.
“Unless the authorities come up with effective measures to mitigate pollution at its sources, people who must be outdoors for a long period of time will still have to wear a facemask to protect themselves from air pollution.”
The prime minister, however, has a different take on the situation. General Prayut Chan-o-cha said that because both human and natural factors contribute to the smog crisis in Bangkok, people should not blame the government for it. They should instead solve the situation by adopting an environmentally friendly lifestyle and learning to live by nature, he said.
Transport Minister Arkhom Termpittayapaisith said yesterday that his ministry did not favour a policy to attempt to lower traffic volumes in the capital and tackle the smog problem by designating certain days for vehicle use based on the licence plate numbers, as has been successful in other countries.
Such policies would cause a major inconvenience and affect too many people, he said.
However, Arkhom said, the ministry is ready to consider such a policy if a majority of the public agreed to it.
The smog in Bangkok is not that serious, the authorities said as they decided not to declare the capital a pollution-control zone and continue taking mild measures to fight the increasingly worsening air pollution.
After related agencies attended a meeting yesterday, Pollution Control Department director-general Pralong Damrongthai said the agencies had decided that the smog was still not critical enough to declare the capital a pollution-control area. Also, he said, doing so might affect tourism and the business sector.