Thai govt says sorry for toxic smog in Bangkok

Authorities start controls on cars, factories and outdoor burning

Water being sprayed in the air from the top of a building in the hope of lowering levels of harmful PM2.5 dust particles in Bangkok. Roads are also being regularly hosed down for the same purpose.
Water being sprayed in the air from the top of a building in the hope of lowering levels of harmful PM2.5 dust particles in Bangkok. Roads are also being regularly hosed down for the same purpose. PHOTO: EPA-EFE

BANGKOK • The Thai government has apologised to Bangkok citizens about the air pollution that continues to disrupt their daily lives and is threatening their health.

The amount of harmful PM2.5 dust particles in the air has exceeded the safe limit in the capital and adjacent provinces almost daily since late December.

The blue sky typical of this time of year is hidden beyond a grey-yellow haze that could have serious long-term effects on health, and emotions are starting to burn along with the waste and cropland fires that contribute much to the problem.

Residents have been venting their frustration on social media, complaining about difficulty in breathing and pressing hard for the government to do more to solve the problem in a concrete manner.

The Bangkok Metropolitan Administration (BMA) and relevant authorities have taken some action to ease the problem in areas under heavy smog.

For instance, they are cracking down on vehicles emitting black fumes and are becoming strict with people burning fires outdoors.

Officials have also started keeping a close watch on industrial plants, ensuring there are no toxic fumes coming out of their chimneys.

Roads are being regularly hosed down and water is being sprayed in the air in the unsubstantiated hope of bringing down the dust particles.

"The government apologises for the inconvenience caused and would like to thank everybody for support and cooperation," Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha said in a statement on Friday.

He also called on owners of diesel-run vehicles to use their cars in Greater Bangkok only when it is absolutely necessary.

"If possible, avoid using them until the smog eases," he advised as he agreed that the main cause of the haze could be put down to incomplete engine combustion.

Separately, Dr Siwatt Pongpiachan, director of Nida Centre Research and Development of Disaster Prevention and Management, called on the government to start handing out face masks to people living in areas hit by heavy smog.

"That's the first thing the government should do because smog is affecting people's health," he said.

Dr Siwatt also urged the government to provide people with accurate information, so they know how best to deal with the situation.

"Thailand should learn from other countries that have battled with smog before," he said.

He also believes Thailand should consider implementing the Clean Air Act and set up an Environmental Protection Agency that can efficiently manage the environment so that all Thais can enjoy clean air.

The World Health Organisation considers PM2.5 - or particulate matter that is 2.5 micron in size or smaller - as carcinogenic.

According to the Pollution Control Department (PCD), if the amount of PM2.5 exceeds 50mg per cubic metre of air, people will start experiencing health problems.

In a move to protect young children, the BMA has already ordered schools to close for two days.

Meanwhile, Siam Commercial Bank and Kasikornbank have both urged staff who are pregnant, sensitive to dust or have children to take care of to work from home.

In the meantime, operations to fight smog continued in several parts of Greater Bangkok.

Army chief Apirach Kongsompong said his forces have also actively responded to the government's policy on fighting the pollution. "People should help too. Don't just blame the government. It's everybody's duty," he said.


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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on February 03, 2019, with the headline Thai govt says sorry for toxic smog in Bangkok. Subscribe