Alarmingly high PM2.5 levels found in Chiang Mai, INSIDE a safety zone building

By  | 02 


A Chiang Mai air-pollution safe zone proved to be not that ‘safe’ according to a medical lecturer. The level of PM2.5 very fine particles was found to be very high INSIDE the designated area.

But the problem was soon resolved later in the day.


Wildfires thicken air over Thailand into planet’s most toxic

Wildfires thicken air over Thailand into planet’s most toxic

Siraphob Thanthong-Knight


Bangkok, Thailand   /   Tue, April 2, 2019 /   12:32 pm

Top Asian finance ministers and central bankers are due to have a summit in northern Thailand this week, and they’ll need pollution masks if they want to avoid breathing toxic air.

Wildfires and crop burning are blanketing the region with smog, prompting Thailand’s junta leader Prayuth Chan-Ocha to fly to Chiang Mai — the area’s tourist hot-spot — early Tuesday to review the crisis. The city’s air quality index was 379 as he visited, the worst major urban reading globally and a level that’s hazardous, according to IQAir AirVisual pollution data.

The air was classed as unhealthy in nearby Chiang Rai, where finance ministry officials and central bankers from Southeast Asian nations as well as China, Japan, and South Korea will meet from Tuesday through Friday. The Bank of Thailand has said it will hand out pollution masks to media covering the event.

Thai authorities blame crop burning to clear farmland, as well as wildfires in mountainous forests amid a drought and searing heat. Chiang Mai has set up a so-called safe zone for residents in a convention center, while a university in Chiang Rai canceled classes on Monday and Tuesday.

“The haze usually comes and goes within a week or two, but it’s been persistent this time — it’s the worst so far,” Khuanchai Supparatpinyo, the director of Chiang Mai University’s Research Institute for Health Sciences, said in an interview. “This can be quite dangerous, and pose health risks.”

Northern Thailand is a popular destination for visitors during the traditional Thai new year festival in mid-April but the smog is likely to make some holidaymakers think twice.

At the start of 2019, the military government was rattled by the second year of spiking seasonal air pollution in Bangkok, exacerbated by traffic fumes, industrial emissions, and construction dust.

So far the episodes of smog haven’t damaged tourism but worsening haze could pose a challenge for an industry that’s key to economic growth.


Prayut promises to ease smog in northern Thailand in a week

Prayut promises to ease smog in northern Thailand in a week

PUBLISHED APR 2, 2019, 9:27 AM SGT UPDATED APR 2, 2019, 7:42 PM


Tan Hui Yee

BANGKOK – As choking smog continued to smother northern Thailand, Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha flew to Chiang Mai province yesterday (Tues) and promised full government assistance to tackle the crisis.

The region appears to have been hit particularly hard this year by the haze, an annual scourge caused by forest fires and the illegal slash and burn method of clearing farmlands during the height of summer.

At 2 pm on Tuesday, vast swathes of the north in Nan, Phayao, Lampang, Chiang Rai, Mae Hong Son, and Chiang Rai registered 24-hour average readings of fine airborne particulate matter that exceeded safety standards. The presence of pollutants smaller than 2.5 micrometers reached as high as 256 micrograms per cubic meter near the Myanmar border in Mae Hong Son province.

Fires continued to rage across the mountainous north, with Thailand’s Geo-Informatics and Space Technology Development Agency recording as many as 348 hotspots on Monday (April 1).

Handing out firefighting equipment to some officials on Tuesday (April 2), Mr. Prayut promised: “The government will support this operation with all its resources, to ease the problem within seven days.”

Embattled Chiang Mai governor Supachai Iamsuwan, under strong criticism for not doing more to tackle the problem, told reporters on Tuesday: “We will ramp up all operations and solve the problem within seven days. We will go down to the smallest (fire) in the villages.”

He added that the Chiang Mai administration had set up 297 places of refuge equipped with air-conditioning and air purifiers.

“We believe that the centers are suitable and we have enough, but we can add more if needed.”

But many Chiang Mai locals remained skeptical about government efforts.

Hotelier Pornchai Jitnavasathien dismissed the idea of the centers, saying: “It’s not working. It’s a crazy idea. You should be giving out masks and asking people to stay at home rather than moving them to centers.”

The government, he said, should have declared a crisis so that people could stay at home rather than risk their health by heading outdoors.

“If this had happened in Bangkok, there would have been a lot of pressure on the government,” he said.

In late January, still, winds concentrated city pollution in the air surrounding the capital, triggering an uproar in Bangkok. Officials rushed to check vehicle emissions and even halted construction work. In some locations, maintenance and firefighting crew sprayed water into the air, the same as they are doing now in Chiang Mai.

In the landmark general election on March 24, Chiang Mai locals cast their ballots in facemasks.

Hotel occupancy in the city – the second biggest in Thailand – typically hits 60-70 percent during the Songkran holiday period in mid-April, but is hovering at 30 to 35 percent now, said Mr. Pornchai.

Locals are now improvising on equipment try to make the air more breathable.

On Facebook, they are sharing tips on how to pair a regular extractor fan with a Xiaomi air filter, to create a home-made air purifier for just 1,200 baht (S$51). A full-scale purifier costs at least four times as much.

“If you don’t have enough money for an air purifier, this can help,” says freelance programmer Nattapol Kurapornkietpikul, 30, who was inundated with queries after he shared pictures of his idea on his Facebook account. Both items are now out of stock in many places.


Blaze destroys 500 hectares of rubber plantation

Blaze destroys 500 hectares of rubber plantation

April 1, 2019

Sen David / Khmer Times

More than 500 hectares of a rubber plantation on Saturday were destroyed in a blaze that spread from a forest fire in Kampong Thom province’s Santuk district.

According to a National Police report yesterday, the forest blaze spread to 530 hectares of the rubber plantation in Ti Por commune.

“Authorities used seven fire trucks to extinguish it and 530 hectares out of 800 hectares of the plantation were destroyed,” it said. “The blaze spread from a nearby forest.”

Thiv Van Thy, provincial Agriculture Department director, yesterday said the rubber plantation belongs to Korean company BNA.

“The company invested in the rubber plantation in that area and 530 hectares of it have been destroyed,” he said.

Neth Pheaktra, spokesman of the Ministry of Environment, yesterday said Cambodia is now suffering from the El Nino weather phenomenon which is causing a hot and dry spell, noting that rains are not forecast for another two months.

He said wildfires, due to human and natural factors, can easily occur because of the hot and dry conditions.

“The main cause of fires is through burning to clear forests for planting crops, resettlement or catching wildlife,” he said.

In January, the ministry issued a forest fire alert over the dry season. It said people must be careful not to burn waste in or around protected forests and local authorities must also prepare contingency plans to fight forest fires to prevent the flames from spreading.

The ministry said that in case of a serious forest fire, the authorities should immediately alert people living nearby and evacuate animals.

“After a forest fire, the authorities must also collaborate with relevant sub-national administrations to prohibit people from inhabiting the cleared areas to allow for regrowth,” it added.

The ministry also reminded people that it is an offense to intentionally cause a fire in a protected area and those caught will be punished according to the law.

It added that it is confident that the public and relevant authorities will heed its warning.


Clamour grows for Upper North to be declared ‘smog disaster zone’ as forest fire hot spots top 3,000

Clamour grows for Upper North to be declared ‘smog disaster zone’ as forest fire hot spots top 3,000

By Sakaorat Sirima
The Nation

Calls for the Upper North to be declared a smog disaster zone became louder on Monday, as the haze crisis persisted and the region’s smog-generating forest fires soared to 3,088 hot spots.

Choking in particulate dust, many provinces have now called for urgent donations of N95-grade face masks for public distribution, while schools have installed air-purifiers or even suspended classes for students’ safety.

As some forest fires were reportedly caused by poachers lighting them in their search for puffball mushrooms, Chiang Mai supermarket franchise Rimping confirmed it would no longer sell canned Thai puffball mushrooms until it could be proved that such products were not, in fact, causing forest fires and haze.

Mae Hong Son Chamber of Commerce, meanwhile, is also campaigning against the selling and buying of such mushroom and forest products reportedly obtained by the lighting of forest fires.

The Geo-Informatics and Space Technology Development Agency’s fire-monitoring system cited a satellite image as of 2 am on Monday showing that there were 3,088 hot spots across nine northern provinces.

Mae Hong Son led the pack with 981 hot spots, followed by Chiang Mai (615), Chiang Rai (370), Lampang (302), Nan (219), Phrae (214), Tak (211), Phayao (116) and Lamphun (60).

In tackling multiple forest fires, the Third Army Region’s front command at Chiang Mai’s Kawila Camp coordinated with provincial authorities in an effort to put out the blazes.

The forest-fire situation was particularly bad in Chiang Mai’s Chiang Dao district, with Prakasit Rawiwan, head of Chiang Dao wildlife sanctuary, saying that things had worsened in the past two days.

Multiple spots on Doi Luang Chiang Dao were on fire, with the conflagrations so far having ravaged 100 rai (16 hectares) of forestland, he said.

However, officials have managed to put out two major fires in the Chiang Dao Cave and Pha Bong Cave areas.

Officials were continuing the fire-fighting mission day and night and now had the use a helicopter from the Natural Resource and Environment Ministry to back them up, while other teams were building firebreaks, Prakasit said, expecting the fires inaccessible areas to be under control soon.

Chiang Mai, Chiang Rai and Mae Hong Son on Monday continued their calls for urgent donations of the N95-grade face masks for public distribution.

As Chiang Mai academics urged people to refrain from all outdoor activities and to wear N95-grade masks during this period, several private schools such as Montfort College and Prince Royal’s College installed air-purifiers in classrooms and campaigned for kids to wear the N95-grade masks.

Chiang Rai’s Mae Fah Luang University, meanwhile, suspended classes and all outdoor activities on Monday and Tuesday this week, while spraying water around the campus and opening two conference halls at the E4 multipurpose building as air-purifier-equipped “clean rooms” for students and personnel to seek refuge.

In terms of PM2.5 pollution – airborne particulates 2.5 microns or less in diameter – the Pollution Control Department reported at 9 am on Monday that the levels in nine northern provinces ranged from 44-267 micrograms (mcg) per cubic meter of air.

The Thai safe limit of PM2.5 is 50 mcg.

Worst off were Tambon Wiang Phang Kham in Chiang Rai’s Mae Sai district (267mcg) and Wiang in the province’s Mueang district (188mcg), while Tambon Jong Kham in Mae Hong Son’s Mueang district cited 201mcg, and Chang Pheuk in Mueang Chiang Mai had 129mcg.