By Chularat Saengpassa
The North has been struggling with severe air pollution for several months now, as outdoor fires are increasing the amount of airborne dust particles.
Prolonged exposure to fine dust particles such as PM2.5 – particulate matter less than 2.5 micrometers in diameter – is linked to several health problems including strokes and heart failures. As of press time yesterday, the amount of PM2.5 in the North exceeded the safe limit of 50 micrograms (mcg) per cubic metre of air.
“Smog is a threat to people’s health,” said Sonthi Kotchawat, an independent environmental health expert.
He added that the region has been struggling with this dust problem for a long time now, but relevant parties have simply waited for nature – such as wind and rain – to blow away the dangerous dust particles.
“We can’t let northerners struggle with smog every year because their health is in grave danger,” Sonthi said, demanding that the authorities issue clear action plans to address the problem. He also emphasised that the government actively participate in dealing with the problem instead of leaving the job to local authorities.
For instance, he said, Chiang Rai – which had the worst air pollution in the nation yesterday – suffered mainly from fires in neighbouring countries.
“Don’t rely on provincial authorities to address this problem. The government needs to take action because the smog has worsened over time,” Sonthi said.
Records show that there were 6,080 hotspots in Myanmar and 3,030 in Laos on Wednesday. Both countries border Thailand in the North.
Although the Asean Transboundary Haze-Fee Roadmap is in place, fires from Thailand’s neighbours have continued polluting the air.
Meanwhile, Chiang Mai has been topping the global list of the world’s most polluted city for a few hours every day since Tuesday. As of 1.49pm yesterday, it was the most polluted city. It’s Air Quality Index stood at 293, a far cry from the safe limit of 100.
The list of the world’s most polluted cities is compiled by AirVisual.com, which monitors air quality across the world.
The Pollution Control Department wrote to Myanmar on Monday asking for help with the smog, but there has been no satisfactory result so far.
In Chiang Rai’s Mae Sai district, which is next to Myanmar, the PM2.5 level hovered around 208mcg per cubic metre of air as of noon yesterday and its AQI stood at a shocking 318 – a threat even to healthy people.
Thai representatives in the Thailand-Myanmar Township Border Committee will soon |be sent to Myanmar to discuss the problem.
The authorities have dispatched firetrucks to spray water in Mae Sai to try to bring down the dust particles. This action will run for at least five days, after which the situation will be reassessed and plans made for further measures.
The smog has also forced Bangkok Airways to cancel its morning flights between Chiang Mai and Mae Hong Son until Saturday. The airline, which put the poor visibility down to forest fires, has cancelled 10 flights so far due to the haze.
Airports of Thailand explained that Mae Hong Son Airport is continuing its operations in the face of the smog, because visibility is mostly poor in the mornings.
“Flights during other hours of the day can still operate as usual,” it explained.
Currently, three airlines are flying to and from Mae Hong Son.
Deputy Prime Minister and Defence Minister General Prawit Wongsuwon, meanwhile, attended a meeting on the pollution in Chiang Mai yesterday.
“We will use this as an opportunity to raise public awareness about PM2.5 and will take tough action against those who violate the ban on outdoor fires,” he said after emerging from the meeting.