By PRATCH RUJIVANAROM
CHIANG MAI and other provinces in the North have not been declared control zones yet, even though people in the region have been choking on hazardous levels of PM2.5 particulates of over 90 micrograms per cubic metre of air for eight days running.
The authorities in Chiang Mai say there is no reason to declare the province a control zone because they believe air pollution has been successfully brought under control by an intensive water-spraying campaign and an efficient ban on outdoor fires.
However, Sonthi Kotchawat, a leading environmental health expert, cautioned that the smog situation in the North has reached significantly serious levels, with the PM2.5 level in nearly every province in the region standing at above 90mcg for over a week.
“I’m really disappointed that both the central government and the local authorities are totally failing at protecting people’s health, and their efforts to deal with this year’s serious smog have been insufficient and ineffective,” Sonthi said.
He added that in a crisis like this, the government should have made the problem part of the national agenda, and imposed a strict and continuous action plan to deal with the problem at its root.
He also said local authorities in the North should declare their provinces control zones, so stricter pollution-control measures can be enforced and the crisis tackled effectively.
“The Bangkok Metropolitan Administration declared the capital a control zone during the smog season last month, while the situation in the North is far worse then what Bangkok suffered,” Sonthi said.
According to the Pollution Control Department, in any province suffering from PM2.5 levels higher than 90mcg per cubic metre of air for more than three consecutive days, the authorities have the right to declare the province a control zone.
However, Chiang Mai’s Deputy Governor Khomsan Suwan-ampa, said yesterday that the smog situation in the province was getting better after the authorities, in cooperation with relevant agencies and the public sector, had launched a large-scale water-spraying campaign across the province.
“Today [yesterday], Chiang Mai Governor Supachai Iemsuwan officially launched a campaign urging Chiang Mai residents to help tackle the haze by installing water sprays in their homes and businesses.
“They are also encouraged to help the authorities and each other by hosing down the streets to reduce the PM2.5 level in the air,” Khomsan said.
“With strong cooperation from the people, businesses and related agencies on this water-spraying campaign, we have noticed that air quality in Chiang Mai has improved compared to recent days.”
Yesterday’s PM2.5 reading in Chiang Mai stood at 116mcg, far higher than both Thailand’s and the World Health Organisation’s safe limit.
Khomsan went on to say that Chiang Mai was also getting assistance from the Royal Thai Air Force, which has been providing aircraft to sprinkle water from the sky to help bring down fine particles of dust.
Hence, he insisted, the smog situation in Chiang Mai is already under control and there is no reason for the authorities to cause unnecessary panic by declaring the province a control zone.
Even though spraying water into the air or making artificial rain can lower some dust particles, leading environmental groups such as Greenpeace say this method is not effective or sustainable when it comes to tackling fine dust particles such as PM2.5.