Tuesday, August 11, 2020

North continues to reel under smog

Mar 17. 2019
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Bangkok airways fleet grounded as Mae Hong Son blinded by haze.

SMOG CONTINUES to choke daily life in the North, where more than 400 bushfire hotspots were identified yesterday. 

Most were in Mae Hong Son, which counted 100. 

Citing the safety risk, Bangkok Airways has cancelled its morning flights between Chiang Mai and Mae Hong Son until Sunday (March 24), extending the deadline from yesterday. 

The thick haze has significantly reduced visibility at Mae Hong Son Airport. Yesterday morning visibility was just 1,600 metres, whereas Bangkok Airways requires 6,000 metres.

The Pollution Control Department reported the level of PM2.5 – particulate matter 2.5 micrometres or less in diameter – in Mae Hong Son well above the safe limit of 50 micrograms per cubic metre. It averaged 85mcg in Muang Mae Hong Son. The World Health Organisation deems PM2.5 a carcinogen linked to several serious health problems. 

Deliberately set brushfires are the main cause of the air pollution. With Mae Hong Son topping the list, Chiang Mai had 83 hotspots yesterday, Phayao 54, Tak 49, Nan 38, Chiang Rai 37, Lampang 31, Phrae 24 and Lamphum 20. Authorities in several provinces have declared total bans on outdoor burning, but farmers often risk the threatened fines because they have no other viable way to clear their land.

The PM2.5 in Nan stands at 119mcg, potentially harmful to everyone, not just children, the elderly and the ailing. 

Several outdoor activities have been cancelled in Nan, such as sports tournaments, as a result of the danger to health.

Pollution Control Department deputy director general and spokesman Dr Asadang Ruay-ajin said forest fires were common in mountainous areas like the North during the dry season. 

“Coupled with agricultural fires and the outdoor burning of waste, the haze spreads quite far,” he said. “So we’ve dispatched surveillance and rapid-response teams to the smog-hit provinces”.

Protective facemasks have been widely distributed, he added, and citizens are urged to wear them the whole time they’re outdoors.

Asadang urged residents to refrain from lighting outdoor fires, to stay indoors as much as possible and to do all they can to protect their health.

“You should keep doors and windows closed, clean your house regularly and wear a facemask that can filter out fine dust particles,” he said.

Meanwhile in the North, a village head manning a temporary fire lookout in Muang Mae Hong Son “arrested” three illegal immigrants yesterday morning. He was on watch in front of Mae Surin Waterfalls National Park, wary of anyone entering the woods to start fires.

“They can’t speak Thai,” Suwit Singkha, head of Ban Hua Nam Mae Sakeud, said of his captives. Three other people behaving suspiciously fled on two motorcycles.

Suwit and his team have taken 20 illegal migrants into custody since setting up their checkpoint, all of whom claimed to be on their way Chiang Mai to find jobs.

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