Calls for schools in Chiang Mai to close as air quality worsens

A woman wearing a face mask walks on a bridge in Bangkok, on Feb 2, 2019. PHOTO: AFP

BANGKOK (THE NATION/ASIA NEWS NETWORK) - With Chiang Mai entering the global list for worst air pollution, calls are growing for schools and educational institutes in the northern province to close down temporarily for the sake of students.

"The Chiang Mai University (CMU), in particular, should suspend its classes until the situation improves. Not only will this save students, but it will also raise public awareness of the severity of smog," the Legal Research and Development Centre of CMU's Faculty of Laws said in a statement on Wednesday (Feb 13).

The statement was released after AirVisual, an internationally recognised platform for air-quality data, ranked Chiang Mai as the world's third-most polluted city on Tuesday afternoon. The sky in Chiang Mai has been of brownish hue for several days now.

The Pollution Control Department (PCD) reported on Wednesday that the level of PM2.5 - airborne particulates of 2.5 microns or less in diameter - in Chiang Mai's Muang district hovered at around 85-94 micrograms per cubic metre of air, well above the 50mcg safe limit.

PM10 was at 114mcg to 123mcg, exceeding the 100mcg safe limit, and the Air Quality Index (AQI) ranged between 188mcg and 203mcg, double the 100mcg safety threshold.

CMU's Legal Research and Development Centre said that in the face of such serious air pollution, government agencies should start handing out free protective masks to people.

The centre added that relevant authorities in Chiang Mai should also urgently draw up tangible long-term solutions for smog - which has been affecting the province for over a decade now.

"If those in power do not take action or show any responsibility, they should be transferred," the centre declared.

Meanwhile, PCD said the amount of small dust particles in the North was very high on Wednesday mainly due to forest fires. There have been more than 1,000 hotspots in the North this past week.

Though haze in the northern province of Phrae appeared to have eased yesterday, it was still at a worrying level with PM2.5 per cubic metre of air recorded at 68mcg and its AQI at 141, down from 130mcg and 240 respectively. The haze was so bad on Tuesday that one aircraft was not able to land at Phrae Airport.

Smog also enveloped the nearby province of Nan for three consecutive days, as locals rushed to burn agricultural fires before authorities imposed a ban in their area.

In nearby Lampang, the smog was so bad that authorities vowed tough action against those lighting outdoor fires.

A strict ban has been imposed on outdoor fires in Lampang province from February 10 to April 10. In Nan, Phrae, Phayao and Chiang Rai provinces, the ban will run from tomorrow until April 15. As for Chiang Mai, Lamphun, Mae Hong Son and Tak, the ban will run from March to April.

After about 10 days of respite, Bangkok and its adjacent provinces saw a return of the smog crisis on Wednesday.

Of the 43 areas where air-quality monitoring devices have been placed, 28 were found to have gone past the PM2.5 safe limit as of 3pm.

In the morning there were just two areas with unsafe levels of PM2.5, but by noon, the number of areas with unsafe levels of PM2.5 had risen to 14.

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