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Officials risking public health by playing down smog

Mar 27. 2019
Fires ravage the Doi Phu Kha National Park in Nan province.
Fires ravage the Doi Phu Kha National Park in Nan province.
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By PRATCH RUJIVANAROM
THE NATION

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THE authorities’ strategy of playing down the serious smog situation in the North is making their measures to tackle dangerous PM2.5 levels a case of “too little too late”, experts said.

After Chiang Mai and several other provinces in the North faced dangerous levels of PM2.5 for three weeks in a row, provincial Governor Supachai Iamsuwan yesterday promised to implement haze mitigation measures suggested by agencies, academics and the public sector. He also ordered the creation of safety zones in every district of the province to provide temporary shelters for vulnerable groups.

Supachai said the first safety zone would be established at Chiang Mai International Exhibition and Convention Centre, which can accommodate up to 1,000 people. An air purifying system is being installed, while more safety zones will be designated in all 25 districts of the province.

However, Dr Rungsrit Kanjanavanit, medical lecturer at Chiang Mai University, lamented that despite added measures to mitigate air pollution, these efforts were neither strong enough to properly protect the health of local citizens in the North, nor would they solve the smog problem in the long run.

“It is a good start in terms of efforts to mitigate the seasonal smog crisis in the North. The Chiang Mai Provincial Authority has shown its intention to work with all stakeholders and accepted suggestions from academics and the public sector on solutions to relieve the smog situation and protect people’s heath,” Rungsrit said.

“But considering the seriousness of the current situation and the length of time citizens in the North are being exposed to toxic air, the authorities’ response is grossly insufficient and also too late to deal with the problem at hand.”

According to the PM2.5 daily average level database at the Pollution Control Department (PCD), the northern region has been suffering from dangerous PM2.5 levels for nearly a month. The annual smog season has already descended on the North with the hot and arid weather of summer, while Chiang Mai and Chiang Rai are among the hardest hit provinces by the smog.

In Chiang Mai, PCD’s air quality monitoring system showed the city is choking on seriously harmful levels of PM2.5. The PM2.5 daily average in the city has remained above 100 micrograms per cubic metre of air for six days in a row, peaking at 282 micrograms last Friday.

The situation is even worse in Chiang Rai’s Mae Sai district, where the PM2.5 level has not dropped below 100 micrograms since March 13.

According to Thailand’s air quality safety standard, a daily average level of PM2.5 higher than 50 micrograms is considered harmful to health, though the international safe limit for PM2.5 is 25 micrograms.

Fires ravage the Doi Phu Kha National Park in Nan province.

Rungsrit stressed that the serious PM2.5 crisis in the northern provinces had left local people, especially groups sensitive to air pollution and poor people in rural areas, facing a grave threat to health. Prolonged exposure to PM2.5 can lead to serious diseases such as asthma, stroke, or even cancer.

“The authorities are risking many people’s lives with their delays and ineffectiveness in taking action against smog. In order to protect the image of the city, they are playing down the situation instead of prioritising the health and well-being of the people,” he said.

“The authorities need to change this poor habit and alert the people about the threat to their lives by informing the public with real-time air quality measurement and educating people about the effects of air pollution.” He added that the governor’s plan to establish air pollution refuge centres in Chiang Mai was a step forward to protect those who cannot afford air purifiers. However, he insisted that this is just a short-term measure and both local authorities and central government must prioritise sustainably tackling the seasonal smog problem by working with all related stakeholders and governments of neighbouring countries.

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