Thailand — At a recent seminar held at Chiang Mai University, Assoc. Prof. Dr. Pongthep Wiwattanadech, head of the Community Medicine Department at CMUs Faculty of Medicine, and also the head of the Chiang Mai – Lamphun basins air pollution watchdog, expressed his concern that airborne pollution in the area seems to be getting worse. The earlier than normal onset of this years drought, according to Dr. Pongthep, may have accelerated the build-up of smog and dust in the atmosphere.
Newly installed water spray fans operate at Narawat Bridge in order to reduce dust particles in the air.Adding to the problem, in the mountainous areas surrounding the basin, farmers have already begun cutting, clearing and burning to prepare land for the next corn crop. This process also heightens the risk of wildfires in heavily forested areas.
Dr. Pongthep stated that pollution in 2008, which, in general, did not exceed the accepted safe levels, had affected at least 12,000 residents health. Concerning long-term exposure to airborne pollutants, Dr. Pongthep stated that Chiang Mai residents run double the risk of lung cancer compared to residents in other regions across Thailand, with up to 600 citizens annually, out of a total of 1.7 million living in the province, likely to develop the disease. Although Dr. Pongthep admitted that his theory was not supported by current research, his concerns, he noted, particularly for those living in Saraphee district, were based on experience.
Meanwhile, although the pollution indicators in three areas of the city are showing a maximum of 98.6 microgrammes per square metre (well below the accepted level of 120 microgrammes), the municipalitys concern is increasing, as pollution and dust in the air has caused problems for the last several weeks. Water spray points have been installed and the moats many fountains have undergone maintenance, as have water trucks. A campaign to reduce burning is also ongoing, and includes the collection of dead leaves and agricultural waste from around the city, which will be delivered to the local military for safe disposal.
Should the air quality deteriorate beyond the accepted level, the municipality will distribute face masks to protect the public. In the citys suburbs, local village headmen and tambon authorities have been urged to control illegal burning in their areas.