BANGKOK is facing an air pollution crisis that has choked the capital since late last year, with academicians warning of serious impact on public health and a threat to the economy.
As of 6pm on Monday, various areas of Bangkok and its vicinity are suffering a huge volume of PM2.5 pollution particles that exceeds the Thai safety limit of 50 microgrammes per cubic metre (µg/m³), according to the Pollution Control Department.
Readings taken by 10 air quality stations around Bangkok showed PM2.5 levels in the city ranged between 70 and 100 µg/m³, the Bangkok Post reported.
Citing a ranking by airvisual.com, Greenpeace Thailand tweeted that Bangkok ranked the ninth worst city on Earth for air quality.
Authorities announced plans to deploy two aircraft with “artificial rainmaking technology” in a bid to create downpours in the east side of the capital.
In front of city hall, firefighters used high-pressure cannons to clean the air and streets while authorities handed out N95 masks to city dwellers.
While the air quality has deteriorated to harmful levels over the past three days, Witsanu Attavanich, associate professor of economics at Kasetsart University said the situation was likely to remain at critical levels for no less than another month due to weather patterns and limited wind.
Witsanu is among the academics who called on the government to take the air pollution problem more seriously and to undertake mitigation efforts in the interests of public health and the economy.
In some areas, visibility was down to just one kilometre, especially in the areas surrounding Suvarnabhumi airport.
Despite the poor visibility and hazardous level of air quality, many Bangkokians were seen going about their daily activities as normal, many of them without facemasks.
“Air pollution is really a silent killer and many Thais underestimate the danger to their health, so not many people protect themselves by wearing a facemask or installing air purifiers at home,” Witsanu said, as quoted by The Nation.
“The official air pollution warning system is also too weak and doesn’t reflect the true severity of the situation… Thais don’t have lungs of steel, so we need to consider the environment and people’s health before we pursue economic growth.”
His research on pollution-related health costs in 2017 found that every microgram of PM10 beyond the safe limit will cost Bangkok’s inhabitants up to THB18.42 billion (US$577 million) in medical expenses.
An activist claims the smog currently blanketing greater Bangkok comes from farmers burning sugarcane fields to make harvesting easier.
Srisuwan Janya, president of the Stop Global Warming Association, told the Bangkok Post the public was wrongfully blaming engine emissions, construction, and the burning of garbage and grass.
“Smog doesn’t only happen in greater Bangkok but also other provinces in the Central Plains, the West and the East where sugarcane plantations are widespread and the sugarcane milling season has started,” he said.