Doctors have urged people not to burn joss paper as offerings and limit incense-burning during Chinese New Year celebrations this week to prevent hazardous emissions.
The smog situation in Bangkok and its nearby provinces showed improvement yesterday and the Pollution Control Department (PCD) even predicted that the level of very fine dust particles - PM2.5 - in the air for Chinese New Year would not exceed the safe limit of 50 micrograms per cubic metre. Health experts, however, warned that the widespread burning of Chinese joss papers and incense during the New Year celebrations could worsen air pollution and pose severe health threats.
Health Department director-general Dr Panpimol Wipulakorn cautioned that exposure to air pollution from the burning of Chinese joss papers and incenses can cause acute sicknesses such as eye irritation, sneezing, breathing difficulties and headache, while prolonged exposure to the toxic smoke could even cause cancer.
This kind of air pollution is very harmful to health and should be avoided by everyone, Panpimol said. He added that children, elders, pregnant women and people with respiratory diseases were even more sensitive to the toxic smoke from the burning of Chinese joss papers and incense, so they should avoid inhaling the smoke at all cost.
"The smoke from Chinese joss papers and the burning of incense contain many kinds of hazardous heavy metals and carcinogens. In an examination of the leftover ashes, we found a very high amount of carcinogens," she said.
"It would be safer for everyone to refrain from burning a lot of incense and Chinese papers at the same time."
Dr Manoon Leechawengwongs, respiratory physician at Vichaiyut Hospital, warned that the smoke from incense was as harmful to health, if not more, than cigarettes, as it contained sulfur dioxide, nitrogen dioxide, and PM2.5, which could also worsen the current smog situation in Bangkok.
Chinese New Year is neither traditionally celebrated nor recognised as an official holiday in Thailand. But as a large number of Thais of Chinese descent live in urban areas, Chinese New Year celebrations, which normally includes the burning of joss papers and incenses, can be widely seen in many Thai cities, including Bangkok and nearby provinces.