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Air Pollution

Smoke and mirrors – the truth about Bangkok’s air pollution | VIDEO

Tanutam Thawan

Published

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OPINION

TRANSCRIPT

Smoke, haze, smog. Every year it’s the same culprits in Bangkok. It’s all the cars sitting in traffic, it’s the old diesel buses, it’s people burning too many incense sticks… yes, that was actually used a reason to explain Bangkok’s bad air at one stage last year during Chinese New Year.

Of course all those things contribute to the city’s pollution but are far from the main problem.

From December to April each year Thailand’s capital city skies became grey with a smog and haze, some days Bangkok ranks in the worst cities in the world for air pollution during this period. But the buses, industry and people during intense sticks are much the same all year round, but the smoke and haze problem is mostly limited to just the months between December and April. So why?

There’s two critical factors at work here. Firstly the annual monsoon, as the airflow flips around the end of November each year from a south west airflow, sweeping moist air out of the Indian Ocean into Thailand, to a north east airflow where drier air is swept down from the Asian continent.

That change of the monsoon also coincides with the annual burns season where farmers burn off their harvested plantation… mostly rice, corn and sugar. Most of these farm areas are to the north and north east of Bangkok.

Put these two phenomena together and you get the drier, north east airflow blowing smoke and haze down from the country’s north and north-eastern farmlands. The problem can be bad enough in Bangkok, but central Thailand and the north suffer even more from the choking smoke and the seasonal public health fiasco.

For reasons, probably mostly commercial, the Thai government have been reticent to directly address the annual burn off season, SAYING that they’re going to crackdown on illegal burning, but never following through with effective enforcement.

Instead, prodded by the media, the Government rolls out its PR machine and invites the media to take photos of water cannons blasting thousands of litres of valuable water into the sky, doing precisely NOTHING to address the air pollution problem.

For some reason there appears to some officials who actually think this grotesque waste of water is achieving something… beyond a woefully ineffective media stunt.

All this obfuscation from officials and the government is completely ignoring the PM2.5 micron “elephant in the room”… the annual burn off season.

In truth the problem in Bangkok is little to do with the traffic, buses and local industry. Of course, it’s a contributor but a tiny fraction of the bigger, deliberately lit, plantation fire issue.

A long term solution is to subsidise proper machinery for Thailand’s farmers to clear the land mechanically, rather than the cheaper burning of the crops. Districts could share the cost of the necessary machinery, with individual farmers and companies hiring the equipment when needed.

Today it’s easy to track all the fires, clearly identified by NASA satellites, in almost real time. It’s a free website that anyone can log onto… even Thai government officials. You can see the active fires in Cambodia, Vietnam and Myanmar as well, but there is a big concentration in central, northern and north-eastern Thailand.

You can see clear evidence of exactly where the smoke is coming from… matched with the daily weather forecast which provides the direction and strength of the winds.

There’s even a simple site like Air Visual which lists the air quality around the country, and the world for that matter, any time of the day… district by district, suburb by suburb.

The information from Air Visual clearly links the poor air quality with the fires that are burning. All this information is free… it’s not rocket science.

At some stage the Thai government and compliant officials will be forced to bite the bullet and admit that the annual pollution problem is what it is – a cover up to protect large and powerful multi-nationals and their agricultural pursuits.

Not until these issues are honestly tackled will Bangkok, and the northern parts of the country, going to be spared from this annual, critical, public health issue.

 

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19 Comments

19 Comments

  1. Avatar

    Ynwaps

    Saturday, December 19, 2020 at 1:25 pm

    Even going after small individual burners in our neighborhoods would be a good start. A couple “small” burns are polluting our cities for the whole evening.

    Red Cars and TukTuks raging down, leaving a trail of unbreathable air behind.

  2. Avatar

    Issan John

    Saturday, December 19, 2020 at 3:46 pm

    “From December to April each year Thailand’s capital city skies became grey with a smog and haze, some days Bangkok ranks in the worst cities in the world for air pollution during this period. But the buses, industry and people during intense sticks are much the same all year round, but the smoke and haze problem is mostly limited to just the months between December and April. So why?

    There’s two critical factors at work here. ….”

    Why?

    Because of the one “critical factor” that you’ve somehow overlooked: RAIN.

    To quote IQAir: “Reasons for the lowered PM2.5 readings may be directly linked to seasonal influence, with the rainy season starting at around July and lasting till October. The rain offers a cleansing to the air quality as it naturally pulls the fine particulate matter and other pollutants such as nitrogen dioxide (NO2) and sulfur dioxide (SO2) out of the air.”

  3. Avatar

    Issan John

    Saturday, December 19, 2020 at 3:54 pm

    “The information from Air Visual clearly links the poor air quality with the fires that are burning. All this information is free… it’s not rocket science.”

    Well, it’s “free” and “it’s not rocket science” but the idea that the information “clearly links” the two is YOURS, and yours alone.

    The experts agree there’s a “link”, but NOT that it’s the main factor with “traffic, buses and local industry” producing only “a tiny fraction” of Bangkok’s pollution.

    Why do none agree with you?

    I hate to say it of the Thaiger, and I usually really enjoy the Opinion pieces which are well researched, but this is just QAnon on steroids.

  4. Avatar

    Patrick

    Saturday, December 19, 2020 at 6:14 pm

    GREAT! An article that states what it is. Now, have balls and publish it in Thai too on the front page. It is the truth after all and many Thais need a bit of education on this health hazard. Taking it seriously is the first step.

  5. Avatar

    Patrick

    Saturday, December 19, 2020 at 7:14 pm

    Thai (and English) subs for the video?

  6. Avatar

    Ian

    Saturday, December 19, 2020 at 8:57 pm

    Agree with everything you say except that the culprits are “multi-national” companies. I live near Chiang Mai, and my neighbors who are burning off the fields are all small independent farmers.

    • Avatar

      Patrick

      Saturday, December 19, 2020 at 10:20 pm

      Many small farmers get everything they need from the few giants. They dont force or help with good habits. Cheap. They could easily reject burned sugarcane for example. They wont. But yeah, frequent backyard burning is allowed to continue too because no enforcement. Sad, a gov that just doesnt care and looks the other way or worse comes with lame excuses

      • Avatar

        Issan John

        Sunday, December 20, 2020 at 11:50 am

        Sorry Patrick, but that’s simply not true about “burned sugar cane”.

        The “giants”, such as Mitr Phol, pay 1,200 baht for a tonne of cut and trimmed sugar cane from the “small farmers” but only 900 baht for “burned sugar cane” (prices vary slightly during the season), and the practice of burning the sugar cane prior to cutting is dying out in any case as the cutters now have to be paid more for cutting burned cane so it’s only really used when the crop needs to be cut quickly as it’s not economical any more.

        • Avatar

          Patrick

          Monday, December 21, 2020 at 12:21 am

          Get your facts straight mister put rabbit out of the hat…
          Host Family busy burning?

    • Avatar

      Issan John

      Sunday, December 20, 2020 at 11:31 am

      I’d overlooked that one, Ian, and while I take my hat off to the Thaiger for having the courage and the confidence publish my disagreement / rebuttals (although for some reason two out of four were omitted / not published), that has to be the fourth nail in the coffin for the accuracy of the article.

      1. The time frame is incorrect. The “annual burns season” in Thailand is NOT “December to April” but is December and January, after which it tapers off until ending in March. The burning season in Laos and Myanmar, however, continues through to April with slash and burn to clear forested areas to make agricultural land, after burning the harvested waste in December / January / February which is why you (in Chinag Mai) have your worst months in March and April (due to the burning), while in Bangkok the worst months are in December and January with burning only a contributary factor (NOT the main factor, as the artice claims, contrary to what all the experts conclude).

      2. The reason for the “annual burn” is incorrect. It’s NOT to “clear the land”, as it is in Myanmar and Laos, but is simply to dispose of waste – primarily from sugar cane.

      3. As the reason for the ‘annual burn” is incorrect, so inevitably is the proposed solution. “Thailand’s farmers” don’t need to “clear the land mechanically” as it’s already been cleared. What’s needed instead is a solution to disposing of the waste.

      4. … and, following your point, “large and powerful multi-nationals and their agricultural pursuits” are not to blame for and cannot be part of any “cover up” since they’re not responsible for the “annual burns season”. While a lot of the rice, particularly in central Thailand, is owned by “multi-nationals” and large companies the sugar cane is predominantly farmed by “small independent farmers”.

      Where the “large and powerful multi-nationals” and big corporations come into it is with the sugar cane factories, such as Mitr Phol, which are only open for four months a year (mid-December through to mid-April) but which churn out vast amounts of “smoke, haze, smog” and PM2.5 pollutants.

      • Avatar

        Patrick

        Monday, December 21, 2020 at 12:23 am

        Obviously you never seen Chiang Mai in May and April? Obviously is thec cause too: human burning aka arson. Rice corn sugar cane mountain forests…

        Blind and bo smell or what?

  7. Avatar

    Patrick

    Saturday, December 19, 2020 at 10:26 pm

    Upset Johnny? Your host family burns happily and frequently these days?

    Its pretty clear the main culprit is burning (aka arson) in Thailand. It doesnt help one bit that it happens during the dry season with little to no rain.
    Rice, corn, sugarcane, mountain forests. And no the forest fires are not because of the drought. If that was so, it would happen right now already. Those are normally saved for last… the fire maps turn red in very few months. Just starting. It follows local harvest dates.

    Ps remove waste = clear the land?

  8. Avatar

    crispy

    Saturday, December 19, 2020 at 10:35 pm

    It’s supposed to take four years off the average life in Chiang Mai.
    Strange that covid gets a shut down but not sugar cane.

  9. Avatar

    Toby Andrews

    Sunday, December 20, 2020 at 10:40 am

    Well as I have posted before, catalytic converters on cars would help.
    Nobody answers. I feel like the kid that said the king has no clothes on.

    • Avatar

      Issan John

      Sunday, December 20, 2020 at 11:42 am

      “Nobody answers” probably because new and recently produced vehicles DO have catalytic converters.

      What would help rather more, although it’s unlikely due to the cost, would be for ALL vehicles to have to have catalytic converters, from cars to pick-ups to buses and trucks – and all boats, since experts consider that a lot of the pollution in Bangkok is due to the boats with some 300,000 trips a day.

      • Avatar

        Toby Andrews

        Sunday, December 20, 2020 at 1:44 pm

        And what percentage of Bangkok traffic is new and recently produced vehicles?
        Er, what is the difference between new and recently produced vehicles?

  10. Avatar

    Issan John

    Sunday, December 20, 2020 at 11:04 am

    “A long term solution is to subsidise proper machinery for Thailand’s farmers to clear the land mechanically, rather than the cheaper burning of the crops. Districts could share the cost of the necessary machinery, with individual farmers and companies hiring the equipment when needed.”

    The “crops” aren’t burnt to “clear the land” because it’s cheaper than “proper machinery for Thailand’s farmers to clear the land mechanically”.

    That isn’t why the “annual burns season” happens.

    What’s burnt is the WASTE: with sugar cane that’s the leaves, as it is with corn (below the ears), and with rice it’s the stem and the rice husks.

    It’s not to “clear the land” at all – it’s simply to dispose of the waste, which you get regardless of whether you cut by hand or harvest by machine (as some now do, but not many yet), or whether you thresh the rice by hand (as some still do, though not many) or use a mechanical thresher.

    None of the waste has any use, except for rice bran (used to produce rice bran oil), so it’s burnt to dispose of it.

    “Proper machinery” isn’t a “solution” because it’s not needed to “clear the land” as that isn’t the issue or the reason for burning.

    The issue is WHERE the waste is burnt, either in situ (on the fields, in the open) or industrially, if collected, possibly generating power and possibly filtered.

    Thaiger, your op-ed’s are usually well researched and well informed, but this one …..

  11. Avatar

    Issan John

    Sunday, December 20, 2020 at 11:37 am

    I really do have to give due credit to the Thaiger for now adding my comments strongly disagreeing with them to my previous comments.

    While we disagree over “the truth”, my genuine respect to you for having the courage to publish my disagreements.

    • Avatar

      Patrick

      Monday, December 21, 2020 at 12:26 am

      It only shows your ignorance…
      Details may be questioned, but its very obvious and logical that the burning is the culprit. Pre and post harvesting. Its sad.

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