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Air Pollution

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

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Smoke and mirrors – the truth about Bangkok’s air pollution | VIDEO | The Thaiger
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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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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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Air Pollution

59 areas see excessive PM 2.5 dust in Bangkok today

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59 areas see excessive PM 2.5 dust in Bangkok today | The Thaiger

59 areas in Bangkok are seeing excessive PM 2.5 dust ratings today as air quality is being described as moderate to poor. Din Daeng Road is being identified as the most polluted, according to the air4thai website of the Pollution Control Department. The amount of PM 2.5 dust is being measured at between 39 and 113 microns.

Din Daeng is also joining Bang Na-Trat highway in Bang Na district, Lat Phrao district and Sukhapibaan 5 Road in Sai Mai district in featuring PM10 dust in the atmosphere that is measuring between 54 and 155 microns.

Read more about Bangkok’s pollution today, and its causes, HERE.

The 59 areas that are considered polluted today are:

Hirunrujee sub-district, Thon Buri district

Kanchanapisek Road in Bang Khun Thian district

Bang Na sub-district

Song Khanong sub-district in Phra Pradaeng district

Din Daeng sub-district, Din Daeng district

Talat Kwan sub-district in Muang district of Nonthaburi

Omnoi sub-district in Krathumban district of Samut Sakhon

Paknam sub-district in Muang district of Samut Prakan

Bang Sao Thong sub-district

Khlong 1 sub-district in Khlong Luang district of Pathum Thani

Rama 4 Road in Pathumwan district

Intharapitak Road in Thon Buri district

Lat Phrao Road in Wang Thong Lang district

Din Daeng Road in Din Daeng district

Khlong Goom sub-district

Khlong Sam Wa district

Chom Thong district

Charunsanitwong Road in Bang Phlad district

Rama 2 Road in Bang Khun Thian district

Vibhavadi Rangsit highway in Din Daeng district

Sukhumvit Road in Phra Khanong district

Ratburana Road in Ratburana district

Rama 5 Road in Dusit district

Trimitr Road at Wongwian Odeon, Samphanthawong district

Rama 6 Road in Phya Thai district

Lat Phrao Road at Soi Lat Phrao 95 in Wang Thong Lang district

Rama 4 Road in front of Sam Yan Mitrtown, Pathumwan district

Narathiwat Road in Bang Rak district

Thung Wat Don sub-district

Rama 3-Charoen Krung Road in Bang Khor Laem district

Sukhumvit Road Soi 63 in Wattana district

Pattanakarn Road in Suan Luang district

Bang Na-Trat highway in Bang Na district

Pahonyothin Road at Kasetsart intersection, Chatuchak district

Don Mueang district

Sukhapibaan 5 Road in Sai Mai district

Nawamin Road in Bang Kapi district

Suan Sayam-Raminthra intersection in Kanna Yao district

Lat Krabang Road in Lat Krabang district

Seehaburanakit Road in Min Buri district

Liab Waree Road in Nong Chok district

Srinakharin Road in Prawet district

Ratchadapisek-Tha Phra Road in Thon Buri district

Charoen Nakhon Road in Khlong San district

Tha Phra intersection, Bangkok Yai district

Soi Nikhom Rodfai Thon Buri in Bangkok Noi district

Buddha Monthon 1 Road in Taling Chan district

Thawee Wattana Road in Thawee Wattana district

Aekkachai Road in Bang Bon district

Pracha-uthit Road in Thung Khru district

Samsen Road in Phra Nakhon district

Huay Khwang district

Khlong Toey sub-district

Ban Sue sub-district

Lat Phrao district

Thung Song Hong sub-district

Pahonyothin Road in Bang Khen district

Saphan Soong district

SOURCE: Thai PBS World

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