Experts urge emergency declaration in north Thailand as air pollution worsens

Residents in Chiang Mai (left) and northern Thailand have been advised to stay inside air-conditioned buildings and avoid all outdoor activities as air pollution hits hazardous levels.
Residents in Chiang Mai (left) and northern Thailand have been advised to stay inside air-conditioned buildings and avoid all outdoor activities as air pollution hits hazardous levels.PHOTO: THE NATION/ASIA NEWS NETWORK

BANGKOK • Thailand's government ought to declare a state of emergency in Chiang Mai and most of Thailand's northern provinces suffering from "disastrous" levels of smog, experts have said.

Residents in the north are advised to stay inside air-conditioned buildings and avoid all outdoor activities as some areas of Chiang Mai recorded levels of PM2.5 - particulates fine enough to enter a person's bloodstream through the lungs - beyond 700 micrograms per cubic metre (mcg/m³) of air yesterday morning.

Dr Witsanu Attavanich, a lecturer at Kasetsart University, said any level over 500mcg/m³ is hazardous and far beyond the capacity of the local authorities to cope. The central government needs to step in now and declare a state of emergency, he said.

"Such a disastrous level of PM2.5 is probably the highest level ever recorded in Thailand," Dr Witsanu said.

"No need to consider the level of threat from such dangerously hazardous air pollution on our health, as breathing in only 100 micrograms of PM2.5 is considered to be very harmful even for healthy people."

In January, all schools in Bangkok were temporarily shut down when the PM2.5 level was around 70 to 120mcg/m³.

But, so far, except for the creation of "safe zones" in Chiang Mai city centre, no such emergency procedure has been ordered by the Chiang Mai Provincial Authority.

 
 

Professor Kwanchai Suparatpinyo of Chiang Mai University's Research Institute for Health Sciences said the situation was critical.

He cited the many forest fires that ravaged Chiang Mai and the northern region as well as smog from neighbouring countries as the causes of the pollution.

He urged residents, especially young children, elderly persons and pregnant women, as well as those with chronic ailments such as allergies and heart disease, to stay indoors and refrain from all outdoor activities.

Meanwhile the Pollution Control Department put the 24-hour average of PM2.5 between 36 and 239mcg/m³ in nine northern provinces.

Tambon Jong Kham in Muang Mae Hong Son was worst off at 239mcg/m³, followed by Wiang Phang Kham in Chiang Rai's Mae Sai district at 224mcg/m³.

Tambon Wiang in Muang Chiang Rai cited 98mcg/m³, while Chang Pheuk and Sri Phum in Muang Chiang Mai cited 172mcg/m³ and 168mcg/m³ respectively.

THE NATION/ASIA NEWS NETWORK

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on March 31, 2019, with the headline 'Experts urge emergency declaration in north Thailand as air pollution worsens'. Print Edition | Subscribe