It’s November and a cool breeze is blowing in northern Thailand. While this should be welcomed as it heralds the cool season, instead it signals that burning season is making a comeback and smoke-laden haze that contains fine particulate matter (PM 2.5) is returning.
Many parts of Thailand are once again under threat from hazardous PM2.5 pollution. Poor air quality conditions induced by hazardous haze have begun to impair the health of people in numerous regions.
According to a recent news source, citizens in 31 provinces, including Samut Sakhon, Nakhon Pathom, Uthai Thani, Suphan Buri, Chai Nat, and Bangkok, are living in a cloud of smoke. The places had far above-average levels of air pollution.
According to the Department of Pollution Control (DPC), 34 districts in Bangkok reported PM 2.5 levels that exceeded the safety guideline.
Experts and regulators predict that haze pollution will be greater this year than previous due to the El Nino phenomenon, which has resulted in severe temperature rises with minimal rainfall and a prolonged dry spell.
The government, organizations, nonprofits and companies have intensified their efforts to curb the detrimental effects of the air pollution caused by the fine dust through stricter measures, innovation, smart tools, sustainable projects and research studies.
Weapons to battle Toxic PM2.5 haze
In response to the warning, the government has been prompted to address the problems of air pollution in order to secure clean air for all.
Speaking at a seminar last month, Sakda Tridech, head of Air Quality and Noise Innovation, a Sub-Division of the PCD, under the Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment said his department has established a network of air quality monitoring which help monitor the presence of pollutants, allowing authorities to take immediate action to improve air quality and protect people’s health.
Now there are 87 air quality monitoring sites, with another 9 stations to be added soon, he said.
“We also have mobile monitoring and assessment units. They are equipped with a range of necessary tools,” he added.
The PCD has also developed innovative weather-forecasting systems which are able to give accurate predictions for next week. The tool can also predict how the particles travel, he added.
“The forecasting systems help us to prepare for the future. We can convey a message to people who may need to take precautionary steps to avoid the pollution,” Sakda said.
The department has worked with the National Science and Technology Development Agency and the Thai Meteorological Department to process the weather data and uses that information to predict weather conditions and give warnings, he added.
To better battle the fine dust that blights the northern provinces where burning intensifies, Sakda noted, the department has launched the “Burn Check”, a mobile app that helps manage burning and mitigate the problems of wildfires, particulate matter and haze.
Monitoring Hotspots in Thailand
According to him, farmers are required to submit a request for burning via the app to authorities for approval before farming residues can be burned. The app provides information on the amount of airborne dust as well as air quality which are used by authorities to consider whether to approve the requests.
The tool allows authorities and villagers to see hotspot data and monitor the fires in real time, he stressed.
To motivate farmers to avoid burning farming waste in their fields, Sakda said the PCD has recently added a new app feature that allows them to sell the crops residues to authorities.
“Stopping the burning of farming waste is a tough task. Forbidden fruit is the sweetest. So, we’ve decided to buy the residues from farmers,” he said, adding that open burning of farm waste is the second main source of air pollution in Bangkok, after vehicle emissions.
In an effort to protect people’s health, Sakda said, the department has lowered the country’s safety standard of PM 2.5 from an average of 50 micrograms per cubic meter to 37.5 micrograms per cubic meter from June 1.
In another move, the Ministry of Industry will implement the Euro 5 emission standard for newly manufactured vehicles, effective from January 1, 2024 to help reduce emissions from road transport, an important factor in improving air quality in the city.
The new regulations are part of the government’s action plan to drive the national agenda “solving the problem of particulate pollution”.
He said the government has worked hard to keep on solving the problems of air pollution particularly particulate pollutants by using pro-active approaches, asking for cooperation from the public, upgrading the protective measures as well as issuing and implementing regulations.
“We have looked into lessons learned for air pollution mitigation policies and measures to make sure that they can solve the problems effectively.” Sakda said.
Adopting sustainable agriculture practice
The “Kon Gla Kuen Tin” (Dare to Return) project, according to Pipaksa Thanethawonkun of Kon Gla Kuen Tin, a social company that provides education on sustainable agriculture practice and farming technology. Its goal is to inspire people to return to the countryside and establish smart farming communities that use sustainable farming methods and smart technologies.
“This will enable them to live a self-sufficient life through farming.” “We believe that our project can improve people’s lives and create a more sustainable future,” he stated.
The project also aims to create a new generation of farmers, he added.
“To us, the new generation is not limited to farmers who are young but rather all people with a sustainability mindset who wish to start a farm using new eco-friendly farming methods. We would like to develop people. Lots of problems including farming, traffic congestion and air pollution are caused by humans.” Pipaksa said.
The traditional farming slash-and-burn technique is blamed for generating haze.
Raising awareness about the impacts of toxic PM2.5 pollutants
Kanadej Thamanoonragsa of FHI 360 noted his organization has worked to spread awareness about climate change, health and the impacts of the pollutants, citing a project in Nepal.
He stated that the group has supported the Nepalese government in improving air quality in Kathmandu Valley. It has constructed a set of artificial lungs made of air filters as part of the research to show people how fine dust impacts their health after long-term exposure. The lungs are on display in front of the Ministry of Public Health. The white filters eventually turn black.
“Some people do not realize that the PM 2.5 they inhale is harmful to their health because it does not cause sudden illness or death.” They have the ability to penetrate the respiratory system and lungs. They can induce sicknesses and difficulties if we breathe them in continuously over time. “We intend to launch a similar project in Thailand,” Kanadej stated.
In Thailand, the organization has worked with Asian Institute of Technology to conduct a research study on the impacts of PM 2.5 on humans and with United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) to carry out a survey to determine the vulnerability in the Thai public health system and preparedness for climate change. It has teamed up with state agencies to provide policy recommendations and sustainable solutions to the air pollution problems.
Furthermore, the organization has worked hand in hand with its partners and startups to develop innovative tools to tackle vehicle emissions such as an AI-driven smoke detector.
“The smart device is used to detect hazardous smoke released from the vehicles. It helps the traffic police reduce the burden of daily manual tasks.” he said.
This Article was first published in Thai PBS