Thailand — A doctor providing medical care to haze-affected patients in the North has called for an adjustment to the pollution safety standard.
Dr Chaicharn Pothirat, chief of pulmonary, critical care and allergies at Chiang Mai University’s faculty of medicine, said the current maximum safety level of 120 microgrammes per cubic meter per day for particles less than 10 microns is far higher than that set by the World Health Organisation (WHO).
In 2005, the WHO set the maximum safety figure at 50 ug per cu/m per day, but it has not been adopted in Thailand.
Dr Chaicharn said prolonged exposure to the hydrocarbons present in haze increases the risk of cancer and damage to the respiratory system.
Dr Chaicharn said doctors in the North had in recent years noticed an increase in non-smokers with lung cancer.
Medical research conducted between 2008 and 2010, based on emergency visits by doctors from the faculty, found incidences of asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and long-term lung disease increased in parallel to every 10 ug per cu/m rise.
”With haze, we tend to discuss just the damage to tourism, scenery, visibility, and sore eyes and noses,” said Dr Chaicharn. ”Those impacts are small when compared with the long-term health risks. How many people in the North will die of cancer because of it?”
Dr Chaicharn called on officials to adjust the standard to more accurately reflect the problem. ”We first have to admit the fact that we have a problem, a serious problem,” he said.
”By accepting that we have a problem, we will be aware of it and we will try to find the best way to solve it, not just grabbing quick solutions to disperse haze, like spraying water.”
But Wijarn Simachaya, director-general of the Pollution Control Department, which sets the safety standard, said adjusting the figure would not help as surpassing it carries no penalties.
”This has nothing to do with the number, but with the burning and how well we can control it,” he said.