Sunday, September 22, 2019

Smog in North takes big toll on public health

Mar 04. 2019
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By The Nation

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NEARLY A quarter of a million people in the North sought medical treatment for four different kinds of ailments that flared up amid the intense air pollution between February 17 and 23.

Locals in Chiang Mai lament that their hometown has again been besieged by smog in the past few days. The problem, they say, has plagued the province for a decade without any solution in sight. 

Exposure to unsafe levels of PM2.5 (the smallest and most hazardous dust particles) is associated with many health problems. In severe cases, prolonged exposure is linked to deaths. 

The Office of Disease Prevention and Control in Chiang Mai yesterday put the number of patients in the North during February 17 to 23 at 248,618, including a high number of respiratory complaints among children under four and cardiovascular concerns among adults over 60.

It said the prevalence of respiratory ailments was 315.8 per 100,000 people, cardiovascular complaints 250.6, skin conditions 25.9 and eye irritation 22.18. 

The situation was worst in Lampang province, with 874.6 people per 100,000 population seeking treatment, followed by Phayao (818.4), Chiang Mai (549.3), Phrae (540.1), Chiang Rai (496.9), Lamphun (429.3), Mae Hong Son (380) and Nan (353).

Chiang Mai University’s (CMU) Dust Boy monitors showed real-time readings above the safe limit in several places in Muang district. 

At 10am yesterday, downtown Chiang Mai near Yupparat School had 108 micrograms of PM2.5 and an Air Quality Index (AQI) of 218.

Near the Regional Health Promotion Centre 1 in Chang Klan, the levels were 101mcg with an AQI of 211. In Nong Pa Khrang, the readings were 108mcg and 219.

Fed up with the persistent air pollution, Mor Chor Forward – a group of students from CMU – is now pushing for three demands. 

The group has demanded that CMU suspend classes on days when PM2.5 levels are above the safe level of 50mcg per cubic metre of air. “Students |could upload class content on CMU |e-Learning instead,” it proposed.

The group also wants CMU to suspend construction activity when the amount of dust particles exceed the safe limit. The third demand is that CMU provide face masks to students. At least 200 CMU students have signed a petition supporting Mor Chor Forward’s demands. 

The Geo-Informatics and Space Technology Development Agency’s fire-monitoring system identified 280 hotspots on Sunday across Thailand, most on farmland. Forest fires and fires deliberately set to clear cropland continue to be major contributors to the haze.

According to the Pollution Control Department, Tambon Jong Kham in Mae Hong Son’s Muang district was the worst with PM2.5 at 84mcg, followed by Phra Baht in Lampang’s Muang district at 67 and Wiang in Phayao’s Muang district at 66. 

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