FB LIVE RECORDING: DIALOGUE FORUM 4 I YEAR 4: The Lessons Learned from PM2.5 and Right to Clean Air

A policy forum on development and environmental challenges and policies to “bridge the gap” and “connect the dots” to create one big picture for better understanding and decision-making in the society

PM 2.5 has increasingly become a new challenge to the country especially in the North where forest fires which usually start in mid-January pose serious impacts to people’s health. The World Health Organisation (WHO) notes that PM2.5 is a fine particulate matter with a diameter of 2.5 microns or less that is classified as carcinogenic since 2013, and along with other fine dust, they are capable of penetrating deep into the lungs, causing cardiovascular and respiratory impacts and also affecting other organs.

According to the Pollution Control Department (PCD), during the beginning of the season, between Jan 1 to Feb 15, nearly 19,000 (18,988) hotspots had occurred in the region, or a 118% increase compared to last year’s record of 8,698 already. The PM2.5 air pollution reached its peak in March, when its 24-hour concentration level rose over 500 µg/m³. The country’s safety limit stands at 50 µg/m³ and the WHO’s is recommended at 15 µg/m³.

By the end of March, over two million people since Jan 1 had had their health affected by the haze, with symptoms ranging from mild to severe effects, according to the ministry. The most notable symptoms were involved with respiratory systems, but long-term exposure could also cause chronic health problems including lung cancer, the ministry said.

At the end of the fire season, the PCD noted that the average 24-hour concentration level of PM2.5 in the North was at 63 µg/m³ or a 110% increase from last year’s 30 µg/m³. The number of days with PM2.5 beyond the safe limit stood at 112 days, or a 60% increase from last year’s 70 days, and the hotspots recorded for the whole season stood at 108,984, or a 356% increase from last year’s 23,877. 

While causes or motivations of these forest fires are varied, officials concerned have pointed out that almost all of them are human-driven, relating closely to the conventional utilisation of forests and hilly farmland by the locals to sustain their farm-based livelihoods; ranging from farmland expansion, clearing of farm residues in the fields, grazing, wildlife hunting, and collecting of forest products_all are typical to seasonal fire burning elsewhere in Southeast Asia.

The PCD chief, Dr. Pinsak Suraswadi noted that the problem was not just about PM2.5 or forest fires here. It’s actually about the unsustainable use of natural resources here and elsewhere. It’s a social and economic problem that occurs almost everywhere now and will continue on and on if we cannot address its causes or drivers clearly.

The challenge now is whether Thailand has learned this hard lesson and managed to address the true causes as well as coming up with new measures and policies to address them proportionately.

The Dialogue Forum has invited the public to explore the challenges ahead of the PM2.5 haze season at SEA-Junction, BACC’s building, where our noted speakers from concerned state agencies, noted experts, as well as civil society representatives took turn sharing their knowledge and views on the panel.

They agreed, the PM2.5 haze especially the phenomenon in the North is complex and is just a tip of an iceberg. Down below is the structural problems challenging all concerned; be they the cumbersome and disintegrated bureaucracy, the structural economic challenges and inequalities of rural folks and farmers, and the challenge from capitalism and free market_all impede or obstruct timely and proportionately management of the problem.

The new act, which is now being drafted, Clean Air Act, is what all concerned have placed their hopes on, wishfully it can help change the course and tackle the haze, which has become toxic, timely and proportionately with new sets of policies and measures covering both short, middle, and long terms.

Watch the recording here.

The forum was organised by Bangkok Tribune in collaboration with its partners; Decode. plus, Thai SEJ, SEA-Junction, and the Northern Breathe Council.