Credit: PCD

EDITORIAL: Haze chokes the administration

Timely and proportionate action is desperately needed now for the capital of Bangkok

The capital is  sick, being choked with PM 2.5, the fine dust composed of various cardiovascular and respiratory carrier toxins.

Since early this week, the dust particles with the diameter less than 2.5 microns or “PM 2.5” have started to surge in the city, and the trend has continued until today.

Yesterday, their concentrations touched the higest level addressed by the government as the “crisis” with the particle concentration measured above 100 micrograms per cubic meter. This is not to mention that several air quality monitoring stations in the city saw the concentrations of the dust particle well passed the safety standard that is set at 50 micrograms per cu m.

Today, such the high levels of the particle concentration were still reported by the Pollution Control Department in the morning, ranging from 38 to 103. 44 out of 51 areas have been declared as areas where the dust “has started to have affects on health” (with the concentrations between 51-90 micrograms per cu m), and up to four as areas where the dust “has affects on health”, literally meaning its concentration is well beyond 90 micrograms per cu m.

PM 2.5 is critical to public health. The World Health Organization (WHO) said the major components of PM are sulfate, nitrates, ammonia, sodium chloride, black carbon, mineral dust and water. While particles with a diameter of 10 microns or less can penetrate and lodge deep inside the lungs, the even more health-damaging particles are those with a diameter of 2.5 microns or less, as they can penetrate the lung barrier and enter the blood system. 

Chronic exposure to particles contributes to the risk of developing cardiovascular and respiratory diseases, as well as of lung cancer, it said.

In its report in 2018 during the time when the dust became an issue in the region, the organisation said outdoor air pollution in both cities and rural areas was estimated to cause 4.2 million premature deaths worldwide in 2016. 91% of the 4.2 million premature deaths occurred in low- and middle-income countries, and the greatest burden was in South-East Asia and Western Pacific regions, it further pointed.

The organisation introduced the thresholds with the annual mean that stood at 10 micrograms per cu m and the 24-hour mean at 25.

It also recommended that policies and investments supporting cleaner transport, energy-efficient homes, power generation, industry and better municipal waste management would reduce key sources of outdoor air pollution.

Most sources of outdoor air pollution are well beyond the control of individuals and demands concerted action by local, national and regional level policy-makers working in sectors like transport, energy, waste management, urban planning, and agriculture,” said WHO.

For Thailand, it is the fact that the PM related haze problem is new and unprecedented. The country awakened to the extent of the problem just a few years ago when the PCD fully rolled out devices to detect and measure the particles in areas throughout Bangkok, revealing shocking facts of such high concentrations of the particles. Haze here has also been exacerbated by field clearings and burnings in the North and neighbouring countries and further down South, futher complicating the situation.

However, the government last year had attempted to address the problem more effectively, coming up with steps and classification for the problem for better management.

It has even addressed it as the national agenda and come up with the action plan lining up measures to deal with various sources of the pollution.

But while the haze has been well beyond the crisis, the public has not been well updated about the measures implemented or how to behave.

Deputy PM Gen Prawit Wongsuwan, also acting as chair of the national Environment Board supposed to be in charge of the situation, said in response of the media inquiry yesterday; We (the government) has been distributing masks to you so wear it, and…What am I supposed to do (to ged rid of haze!)

Beyond disappointment, what remains to be seen is the truly timely and proportionate implementation and serious action to the degree of the problem that has now reached the so-called “crisis”.