Thursday, July 18, 2019

Meetings held to seek answer to Bangkok smog

Jan 23. 2019
Visitors to the Erawan Shrine in downtown Bangkok have been asked not to light candles or joss sticks as it could help reduce air pollution by 5 to 8 per cent, officials say.
Visitors to the Erawan Shrine in downtown Bangkok have been asked not to light candles or joss sticks as it could help reduce air pollution by 5 to 8 per cent, officials say.
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By The Nation

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AS PUBLIC AGITATION over the hazardous air in Bangkok continues to grow, a fresh look at how to deal with PM2.5 particulates is underway, with consecutive meetings being held by the national pollution-control committee and environmental board.

Authorities are discussing additional mitigation measures with PM2.5 levels expected to reach “severe” Levels 3 and 4 beginning today, Environment Minister Surasak Kanchanarat told reporters yesterday.

Separate actions for each of the four levels of severity are being reviewed after the Pollution Control Department (PCD) on Monday consulted with other agencies involved. 

The first level addresses PM2.5 with concentrations up to 50 micrograms per cubic metre. The second involves particles between 50 and 75 micrograms, the third between 70 and 100 and the fourth beyond 100 micrograms for more than three consecutive days. 

The first two levels will trigger intensified checks on exhaust fumes from diesel-powered vehicles, water spraying, artificial rainmaking and the suspension of major public transportation construction to relieve traffic congestion.

Surasak said the pollution committee would hear from experts today and select more stringent measures to deal with PM2.5 Level 3, while the environmental board would separately meet to address Level 5.

Possible measures for a worst-case scenario include a ban on some diesel-powered vehicles for a specified amount of time, the minister said.

He said the governors of Bangkok and adjacent provinces could declare “disturbance-control zones” at major pollution sources if the situation reaches Level 3.

More pumps rated B20 diesel standard would be opened at petrol stations in outer Bangkok starting next week, Surasak said, and meanwhile experts were testing the efficacy of spraying water more delicately. If that proves worthwhile, it would be implemented around high-rise buildings.

General Surasak said, without elaborating, that long-term policy was needed to control the number of vehicles on the roads and get more people riding public rail transit.

“But please don’t be worried – we have a plan and steps to deal with the problem,” said Surasak, while conceding that the pollution crisis was unprecedented. Most citizens only became aware of it a few years ago when the PCD installed particle-measuring devices at 43 Bangkok stations.

Agencies prepared for the problem and came to a mutual understanding in November, he said.

The government has also prepared a future rehabilitation plan for people whose health is affected and in the long run will shift public-transportation policy towards rail rather than personal vehicles. This aligns with Thailand’s commitment in the Paris Agreement and become a “low-carbon society” by cutting “business-as-usual emissions” by 20-25 per cent by 2030.

Thailand has joined other nations in a global pledge to cut greenhouse gases under the umbrella of the UN Climate Convention. The transportation and energy sectors create almost 75 per cent of the harmful gases, said Raweewan Bhuridej, secretary-general of the Office of Natural Resources and Environmental Policy and Planning. 

Public rail transit could help cut up to 35 million tonnes of CO2 emissions, she said. It has so far contributed a cut of 45.6 million tonnes.

“During the construction [of public rail transit] there will be some dust and pollution. It’s all connected,” said Surasak.

The pollution is now reverting between Levels 1 and 3. He said, and on some days reaches Level 3 but there is no consistency in the density.

Surasak said the Meteorological Department told him the weather would soon ease the smog situation, but there could be more problems on January 28 and 29 when the north-easterly wind weakens.


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