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Air Pollution

Government braces for annual increase in air pollution in central and north

Maya Taylor

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Government braces for annual increase in air pollution in central and north | The Thaiger
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The Public Health Ministry is preparing to deal with the health impacts of an increase in PM2.5 particles, which usually occurs from December in parts of central and northern Thailand.

The Nation reports that officials from the Ministry met in Nonthaburi province, central Thailand yesterday, to host a video conference with doctors in health centres across the country. The government’s strategy appears to be treat the symptoms again rather than addressing the problem at its source.

It’s understood that during the video conference, the Ministry’s Permanent Secretary, Dr Sukhum Kanchanapimai, spoke to doctors about the expected deterioration in air quality and asked them to provide information to their patients.

Dr Sukhum says medical professionals are being asked to monitor certain categories of patients, in particular the elderly, children, and those suffering from asthma. They must also submit weekly reports and open a Public Health Emergency Operation Centre if particulate levels exceed 75 micrograms per cubic metre over three days.

“The prime minister, deputy prime minister, the Minister of Public Health and the Deputy Minister of Public Health are concerned about the PM2.5 dust particle problem and have appointed the Ministry of Public Health to cooperate with related authorities to tackle this problem.

“The Office of the Permanent Secretary is ready to open the Public Health Emergency Operation Centre at four levels – in provinces, health zones, departments, and ministries.”

SOURCE: The Nation

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Air Pollution

Stop the burn – Thai Governors told to stop farmers burning off agricultural waste

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Stop the burn – Thai Governors told to stop farmers burning off agricultural waste | The Thaiger

Provincial governors in Thailand’s farming areas are being told to mitigate the burning off of agri-business waste by farmers in their provinces. The annual burn-offs are the biggest cause of the December to April air pollution in Bangkok and Central Thailand which lie in the wake of the light north-easterly breezes this time of the year. The burn-offs partly co-incide with the lighter annual north-easterly monsoons.

Lt-Gen Kongcheep Tantravanich, a spokesman for Deputy PM Prawit Wongsuwan, has been one of the first to openly admit that the agri-fires are the common denominator in the capital’s annual smog woes. Over recent decades Bangkok’s Pollution Control department has trotted out any number of PR stunts, including water-spraying drones and asking temples to stop lighting josh sticks.

Now that spokesperson says that the accumulation of PM2.5 micron dust in the atmosphere… “mainly caused by outdoor burning of waste, especially on farms, combined with poor air circulation, has been posing a health risk for the past several days”.

Deputy PM Prawit has now ordered all provincial governors to send teams to warn farmers to stop the burning or face prosecution. It’s not the first order from the top directed at farmers trying to find cheap ways to get rid of agri-waste and prepare their plantations for the next crop. But, despite the ‘warnings’ in the past the practice has continued largely unenforced.

Thai farmers conduct the burn-off activities to reduce the amount of leftover materials – biowaste – like stalk tops, leaves and refuse left after the harvesting. Rice farmers also routinely burn rice stubble – the residual plant waste to prepare fields for the next season of crops.

Around 70-75% of Thailand’s sugar production is sent overseas and the country ranks second in exports just behind Brazil. It’s a big industry. The government also introduced a quota, distribution and price support system between growers and millers which has helped to artificially keep a ceiling on the export prices. Most of Thailand’s sugarcane plantations are in the Central and Northeast regions, some of them, evidenced by the fire maps, are less than 100 kilometres north of the capital.

But the Natural Resources and Environment Minister Woravut Silpaarcha is resorting to the old government narrative, repeating that officials at the Pollution Control Department will have to coordinate with the Interior Ministry and the Bangkok Metropolitan Administration to “intensify efforts to reduce emissions of PM2.5 dust from vehicles and factories”.

He’s also suggested that companies should allow employees to work from home to reduce the amount of vehicles on the city’s roads.

The Pollution Control Department is now estimating that the biomass burn-off contribution to the PM2.5 levels could vary between 24 – 38%, with the majority of it coming from sugarcane and rice burning. Most of the concentrations of agri-burning is around Northern Thailand and in the farmlands north of Bangkok. These areas also suffer considerably from the direct effects of the smoke. Fire maps also indicate that an even worse problem exists in northern Cambodia and north-west Myanmar where the burning carries on un-abated.

Stop the burn - Thai Governors told to stop farmers burning off agricultural waste | News by The Thaiger

GRAPHICS: firms2.modaps

The Thaiger has waged a long campaign to provide fire maps and air-pollution readings over the past 3 years as evidence of the contribution of the agri-burning to Bangkok’s annual smog problem. But officials have kept beating the same drum, blaming factories, vehicle traffic and old diesel buses (which certainly need to be regulated as well but are not the main cause of the December to April haze and smog).

 

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Bangkok

Smog across Bangkok can be blamed on a ‘Dust Dome’ of pollutants

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Smog across Bangkok can be blamed on a ‘Dust Dome’ of pollutants | The Thaiger
PHOTO: Thairath Online

Poor air quality across Bangkok in the past week are not just caused by the PM2.5 dust. We can blame a ‘dust dome’ that is formed with low atmospheric pressure, dust and pollutants from the farmland waste burning, and greenhouse gases.

Natural Resources and Environment Minister Varawut Silpa-archa says that the pollutants come from “the improper disposal” of farming waste around Bangkok’s northern outskirts. He also asked provincial governors to ask farmers to avoid burring farm waste. If they refuse to cooperate, there might be an order to ban all outdoor burning activities in the future, while suggesting that farmers should sell their agricultural waste instead of burning it.

The mentioning of the agricultural sector being major contributors to Bangkok’s smog problems is a rare official recognition of the pollution ‘elephant in the room’.

People in Bangkok are also being encouraged to avoid outdoor activities and wear their masks when going outside to prevent both the pollutants and Covid-19. While “unhealthy level” of PM2.5 has been reported in many areas over the past week, the Department of Pollution Control is considering both short-term and long-term measures to tackle the air pollution problems.

Measures that have been rolled out include an extension of the work-from-home policy, lowering the price of low sulphur fuel in the capital and its vicinity, extensive monitoring of waste burning on farms, as well as offering higher prices for sugarcane products which were made in a sustainable manner.

For a long-term plan, the department is considering setting a new standard of air quality by lowering the “safe” threshold for PM2.5 exposure below the current level, but this is likely to happen in the next 5 years. Also, the government aims to apply the Euro-5 standard for vehicle emissions by 2024.

He also says that the pollution situation in Thailand has seen improvement after the measures were implemented. And, the number of days where [air quality] exceeded safe standards was less than 20% of the year.

SOURCE: Bangkok Post

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Air Pollution

Air pollution in Bangkok expected to get worse due to “cold spell”

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Air pollution in Bangkok expected to get worse due to “cold spell” | The Thaiger

Air pollution in Bangkok is expected to get worse over the next few days as pollutants are getting trapped in the atmosphere thanks to a recent cold spell and a lack of wind to blow the haze away from the city. In response to the unhealthy air pollution, The PM’s Office permanent secretary says he has asked several ministries to step up efforts in combatting the PM2.5 micron ‘dust’ particulate that has blanketed the city.

He says that the issue has been contained so far due to Covid-19 measures which have made many people work from home.

“But vehicle exhaust fumes, construction sites and burning garbage in open areas is not helping.”

“To add to the problem, the cold spell is creating an “inversion layer” as meteorologists call it, which stops air below it from rising and trapping pollutants.”

As usual, Bangkok officials are looking to some of the smaller, localised traffic issues to blame, although the annual “smoke from the north” problem is the key and overriding issue regarding Bangkok’s smog problem months. The local traffic pollutants, whilst ever-present, don’t cause the skyline smog and haze for the rest of the year.

And when the Thais refer to a “cold spell” it usually means the ambient temperature has dropped to the low 20s. In other parts of the world that would be considered a heat wave!

The secretary says police and other officials are being asked to curb traffic build-ups at intersections as some had seen a sharp increase in dust pollution. Motorists are also being advised to take their cars for routine engine check-ups but some owners are refusing, saying their cars are new and not releasing black smoke. Public transportation vehicles are also being checked for emissions that could further add to the pollution issue in the country’s capital.

Meanwhile, PM Prayut has recently asked people to avoid large gatherings out of what he says is “concern” for their health after the recent cold spell from China hit the nation. But, more particularly, he pointed out political gatherings and has also asked everyone to adhere to social distancing and mask wearing to help curb the recent outbreak of Covid-19 that has swept the country in the past couple of months.

SOURCE: Bangkok Post

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