CHIANG MAI – The toxic haze situation in Northern Thailand has become worse than ever after and now an international report concludes that air pollution shortens children’s lives by 20 months on average.
The State of Global Air report for 2019 released on Wednesday underlines the fatal effects of pollution, saying that fine dust particles like PM2.5 kill more people than alcohol, malnutrition and drugs. According to the report, the life span of children born in heavily polluted regions of South Asia could be shortened by 30 months.
Thailand has good reason for concern over the report’s findings. Its northern region has been struggling with harmful levels of PM2.5 (particulate matter less than 2.5 micrometres in diameter) for months now.
“Smog is destroying the life of my son,” Ong-art Decha, a Chiang Mai resident, lamented on Facebook recently.
The post included an image of his four-year-old son Mon Phu, who sought medical help after bleeding from the nose apparently due to exposure to smog.
The heavy haze enveloping Chiang Mai’s Chiang Dao district had forced the family to move to a hotel in Chiang Mai’s Muang district, though just a day after moving, Mon Phu began showing signs of a smog-related condition. When taken to Chiang Mai Hospital, the four-year-old was diagnosed with inflamed lungs.
For years, the World Health Organisation has described PM2.5 as carcinogenic.
Prof Dr Chaicharn Pothirat, who teaches at Chiang Mai University’s Faculty of Medicine, said that for every 10-microgram rise in PM2.5 per cubic metre of air, the number of patients admitted to hospital rises by 3 per cent on average.
“The patients usually come with complaints related to acute symptoms from stroke, paralysis, heart failure, lung inflammation, asthma, etc,” he said.
Chaicharn also believes that exposure to PM2.5 can directly shorten people’s lives.
According to the Chiang Mai-based disease control office, more than 40,000 people sought medical help for respiratory disorders during the 10-week period between January and March. In the same period, nearly 30,000 people visited doctors for heart and blood-vessel related diseases, 2,783 sought help for skin inflammation and 2,373 needed medical attention because of inflamed eyes.
Air quality remains poor in Chiang Mai, which was ranked second in the airvisual.com list of the world’s worst polluted cities as of 1pm yesterday with an air quality index of 280. With forest fires cited as the main cause air pollution, officials are now working to tackle the situation.
As of 2.42pm yesterday, the Geo-Informatics and Space Technology Development Agency’s fire-monitoring system reported 275 hot spots in the region. The top five worst-hit provinces were Mae Hong Son (114 hot spots), Chiang Mai (35), Lampang (35), Chiang Rai (33), and Phayao (20).
Mae Hong Son has been hit hard by this year’s smog season, with many flights to province cancelled due to reduced visibility. The pollution has been visible to the naked eye for months.
In Mae Hong Son, the PM2.5 amount reached 160mcg per cubic metre of air at 8am yesterday, a far cry from the safe limit of 50mcg.
By Chularat Saengpassa