CHIANG RAI – The Pollution Control Department (PCD) under the Ministry of Public Health reports that the Northern region of Thailand has been suffering from dangerous PM2.5 levels for nearly a month.
The annual smog season has already descended on the North with the hot and arid weather of summer, while Chiang Mai and Chiang Rai are among the hardest hit provinces by the smog.
In Chiang Mai, PCD’s air quality monitoring system showed the city is choking on seriously harmful levels of PM2.5. The PM2.5 daily average in the city has remained above 100 micrograms per cubic metre of air for six days in a row, peaking at 282 micrograms last Friday.
The situation is even worse in Chiang Rai’s Mae Sai district, where the PM2.5 level has not dropped below 100 micrograms since March 13.
According to Thailand’s air quality safety standard, a daily average level of PM2.5 higher than 50 micrograms is considered harmful to health, though the international safe limit for PM2.5 is 25 micrograms.
Phayao provincial governor Narongsak Osotthanakorn has issued an urgent letter instructing disaster prevention and mitigation officials to ask industrial factories, whose activities generate PM2.5 dust, to suspend work for one or two days or until the situation returns to normal.
A greyish-white smog covered Phayao, prompting residents to wear face masks and glasses to prevent eye irritation when going out.
Dr Rungsrit Kanjanavanit, medical lecturer at Chiang Mai University, lamented that despite added measures to mitigate air pollution, these efforts were neither strong enough to properly protect the health of local citizens in the North, nor would they solve the smog problem in the long run.
Considering the seriousness of the current situation and the length of time citizens in the North are being exposed to toxic air, the authorities’ response is grossly insufficient and also too late to deal with the problem at hand.
Rungsrit stressed that the serious PM2.5 crisis in the northern provinces had left local people, especially groups sensitive to air pollution and poor people in rural areas, facing a grave threat to health. Prolonged exposure to PM2.5 can lead to serious diseases such as asthma, stroke, or even cancer.
Meanwhile, The Tourism Authority of Thailand (TAT) has issued a statement saying the air quality in parts of the country’s north has been at unhealthy levels for the past weeks.
It is advising tourists visiting Chiang Mai, Chiang Rai and the surrounding provinces to monitor air quality index (AQI) reports and take necessary precautions.
The Pollution Control Department under the Ministry of Public Health is providing ongoing reports of air quality, and tourists can keep abreast of these via the Air4Thai website or by downloading the mobile application “Air4Thai” on App Store or Google Play.
The haze may also affect flight operations and cause delays. Passengers may check the flight status from the airline that they are travelling on or get the latest updates from the airport authority.
TAT also suggests that individuals take precautionary steps such as wearing an N95-rated face mask whenever going outside, and advises those with respiratory problems or other suspected effects of the haze to see a doctor or pharmacist immediately.