Health fears in Thailand's north as smog spreads

Pollution levels in the North have reached potentially health-harming levels in some areas due to uncontrolled burns and wild fires, new data has revealed.

The Pollution Control Department revealed yesterday that nine air-quality monitoring stations in northern provinces found that the volume of particulate matter with a maximum diameter of 10 microns (PM10) had risen over the safe level of 120 micrograms per cubic metre of air.

The highest recorded figure so far is an alarming 254 micrograms in Lampang, while its has also risen above a safe level in Lamphun (214), Phrae (209), Chiang Mai (176) and Tak (130).

The Air Quality Index in the North has also exceeded a safe level. Yesterday the AQI measure at most monitoring stations was over 100. Lampang's air pollution was the worst with an AQI level of 159.

Due to the hazardous levels of air pollution, the Ministry of Health has advised particualrly vulnerable persons such as children, the elderly and the sick to avoid unnecessary outdoor activities.

But if people are forced to go outside they should wear a mask or cover their face with a wet towel.

The ministry has distributed 140,000 masks in the seven northern provinces.

Chiang Mai has been covered by smog for several days due to a wild fire.

Siriporn Plarak, a Chiang Mai resident, said she had shortened her exercising in a park because if she stayed too long the smog irritated her eyes and made her throat soared.

Siriporn said the pollution was making people sick.

The smog was so thick in parts of the province that the peaks of Doi Suthep and Doi Pui could not be seen from the city. In Chiang Mai, the visibility has been reduced to only three kilometres.

Airport affected

At Chiang Mai International Airport, pilots have been forced to take extra care when taking off and landing.

This is not the first time Chiang Mai residents have gone through this. In March last year Chiang Mai recorded a PM10 level of 243 micrograms.

The air pollution is a chronic problem in the northern region. Every year in the dry season, farmers burn fields to clear land, creating a huge amount of smog and dust while the potential for wild fires is high due to the dry conditions.