Air pollution makes more than 1.3 million Thais sick so far this year

Polluted air over Bangkok at sunrise on March 7, 2023. PHOTO: REUTERS

BANGKOK – More than 1.32 million people in Thailand have reported sick so far in 2023 owing to unhealthy levels of air pollution, the kingdom’s Department of Disease Control said.

A total of 1,325,838 patients suffered from air pollution-related diseases during the first five days of January, said the department’s director-general, Dr Opas Karnkawinpong.

“The PM2.5 (particulate matter smaller than 2.5 microns in diameter) level has been over 51 micrograms (mcg) per cubic m of air for more than three consecutive days in 15 provinces, which has begun to affect the people’s health,” he said.

Any level above 50mcg per cubic m is unsafe and can cause chronic diseases such as lung and heart problems.

The 15 provinces are: Nan, Chiang Mai, Chiang Rai, Phrae, Phayao, Lamphun, Lampang, Mae Hong Son, Uttaradit, Sukhothai, Tak, Phitsanulok, Phetchabun, Nonthaburi and Bangkok. All of Bangkok’s 50 districts are affected.

“An emergency operations centre was opened for public health in these 15 provinces and we are opening more in six other provinces,” Dr Opas said.

Another 36 provinces are also reporting PM2.5 levels above 50mcg per cubic m, but for fewer than three days at a time, he added.

“This year’s PM2.5 levels are higher than last year’s partly because there was less travel during the past two years due to the pandemic, resulting in less pollution,” he said.

Thailand’s Pollution Control Department forecast that while Bangkok and its nearby provinces would have better air conditions from Thursday to next Tuesday, helped by the south-easterly winds, pollution in the upper and lower northern regions of Thailand could worsen.

“Though pollution is expected to gradually decrease in the summer, it will stay for another couple of weeks,” Dr Opas said.

He advised people to avoid outdoor activities during this time and continue with their medical care.

There were 196,311 cases of people in the country falling sick because of air pollution this week, up from 161,839 last week.

There have been 583,238 cases of respiratory diseases, up by 85,910 from last week; 242,805 cases of eye infections, an increase of 36,537 from last week; 267,161 cases of inflammatory dermatitis, a rise of 35,878; and 208,880 cases of heart and cerebrovascular disease, an increase of 33,413. THE NATION/ASIA NEWS NETWORK

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