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Can Thailand Break the Annual PM2.5 Haze Cycle

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Can Thailand Break the Annual PM2.5 Haze Cycle

The COVID-19 pandemic may have passed, but the threat of haze remains for the foreseeable future. Hazy skies are a warning that dangerous fine dust particles, which can be fatal, should not be ignored.

“We expect the smog to worsen for the rest of the year,” said Assoc Prof Witsanu Attavanich of Kasetsart University, an expert in climate change research and PM2.5 situation analysis.

Dr. Witsanu explained that PM2.5 dust particles in the air are now increasing because COVID-19 control measures have been lifted.

“Most people don’t work from home anymore,” he said. “Most students have also returned to campus.”

Sonthi Kotchawat, an independent environmental health expert, observes that many activities have resumed in the post-pandemic period.

Can Thailand Break the Annual PM2.5 Haze Cycle

Unsafe Haze Levels

In 2019, the average PM2.5 particles in Bangkok air was as high as 59 micrograms. There were 64 days when PM2.5 haze levels exceeded the safe limit.

When lockdown measures were implemented in 2020 to control the spread of COVID-19, the situation improved slightly. The average amount of PM2.5 fell to around 46 micrograms, and the number of days with dangerous levels was reduced to 60.

When COVID-19 restrictions were relaxed slightly last year, the number of days with PM2.5 levels above the safe limit increased to 61.

According to Witsanu, the three main sources of PM2.5 pollution is haze from farming, combustion-engine vehicles, and industrial operations.

Farmers frequently start burning their fields in November in preparation for the new growing season.

“Black exhaust fumes from vehicles contribute to air pollution.” Thailand has moved the implementation of Euro 5 emission standards from 2020 to 2024. Without the delay, air pollution could have been significantly reduced,” he said.

This year, there were 11.56 million registered vehicles in Bangkok alone, up from 10.9 million the previous year.

Witsanu went on to say that while many factories have now turned their machines back on around the clock, the Department of Industrial Works has yet to release haze data on their pollutant emissions.

Can Thailand Break the Annual PM2.5 Haze Cycle

Haze is expected to worsen in the coming months.

Witsanu stated that rain was a key factor in reducing air pollution and predicted that the dry season would worsen air quality throughout Thailand. Normally, the transition from wet to dry season occurs in October.

He predicts that smog will first arrive in Greater Bangkok before spreading to the rest of the country.

“In November, smog began to cause problems. “It’ll be at its peak in December or January,” he added.

He expects heavy PM2.5 pollution in the Northeast from December to March, when farmers start agricultural burning.
The region will almost certainly be affected by haze from neighbouring Laos and Vietnam as well.

“In the meantime, the North will face a PM2.5 threat from January to April due to farm burning, forest fires, and Myanmar smog.”

Can Thailand Break the Annual PM2.5 Haze Cycle

Lung Cancer from the Haze

The public was shocked earlier this month to learn that a 28-year-old medical student had been diagnosed with terminal lung cancer despite regularly exercising, getting plenty of rest, and not smoking.

The young doctor has lived in Chiang Mai’s northern province for more than ten years, prompting many to blame his cancer on smog. At certain times of the year, Chiang Mai is notorious for severe air pollution.

Outdoor air pollution, specifically particulate matter in polluted air, has been classified as carcinogenic by the World Health Organization.

Last year, WHO reduced the safe limit for annual average PM2.5 levels from 10g/m3 to 5g/m3. The decision was based on solid scientific evidence that when PM2.5 levels exceed that level, the fatality rate skyrockets. WHO established a 24-hour limit of 15g/m3 micrograms.

Thai authorities set a much higher safe limit, insisting that air quality is healthy if the average PM2.5 levels do not exceed 50g/m3 over a 24-hour period.

Thailand’s PM2.5 standard, on the other hand, is set to be tightened in line with global trends. The 24-hour safe limit will be reduced to 37.5g/m3 on June 1st of next year.

However, there is growing concern about whether the country’s major polluters will be able to adjust in time to help meet the new safe limit. “I’m not sure if all parties in Thailand are prepared to comply with this standard,” Sonthi said.

Anti-smog mechanisms

The Center for Air Pollution Mitigation has implemented 7 smog-fighting measures. These measures include issuing early warnings in all areas, treating smog as a national priority, implementing a Fire Danger Rating System, advocating for international anti-smog mechanisms, and involving all sectors in smog-eradication efforts.

CAPM also aims to reduce emissions at the source, such as from factories, vehicles, and other polluters. It is also constructing an air-quality data centre that will use CCTV to detect pollution hotspots and outdoor buring.

When a fire is detected, the Bangkok Metropolitan Administration personnel will be dispatched to put it out as soon as possible.

Meanwhile, the Disease Control Department has directed hospitals in Bangkok to investigate which diseases are associated with dust-particle pollution.

The study has so far included 3,409 people with asthma and other respiratory problems. Fifteen diseases have been linked to air pollutants, providing relevant authorities with more data to protect people from smog.

The Public Health Ministry has also established 66 air-pollution clinics in Thailand’s 33 provinces.

Even better, as many as 78 medical facilities offer online counselling to patients suffering from air pollution-related illnesses.

The BMA has established five air-pollution clinics in the capital.

According to Dr Chaicharn Pothirat, from Chiang Mai University’s Faculty of Medicine, the percentage of lung cancer patients who haven’t smoked is comparable to smokers.

“However, in Thailand, pollution victims are not treated the same as smokers. “Those exposed to air pollution in the United States are treated similarly to smokers in order to monitor their cancer risks,” he explained.

Meanwhile, several Thai provinces lack air quality monitoring equipment. Bangkok has over 50 of the government’s 138 air quality monitors, whereas some provinces have none.

Greenpeace points out that due to a lack of these devices, people in the North know very little about the PM2.5 air quality in their communities.

Source: Thai PBS

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