Air pollution returns to Bangkok as government warns it will be worse this year

Footage shows PM 2.5 air pollution clouding Bangkok as ministers warned that it will be worse than ever this year – affecting Covid-19 sufferers more than others.

Clouds of smog from vehicles and agricultural burning covered buildings in the capital on Friday morning December 17.

Health minister Anutin Charnvirakul warned that people with the Covid-19 illness and those with underlying health problems were at greatest risk from the air pollution.

Thailands Center for COVID-19 Situation Administration (CCSA) spokesman Dr Opas Kankavinpong blamed the pollution on ‘atmospheric conditions’ and an easing of lockdown restrictions, which will see more vehicles on the road and in the skies.

The medic warned people with heart ailments, respiratory tract problems, kidney and skin conditions to take precautions, such as wearing N95 masks.

The advice came amid growing public awareness about air pollution.

Scientists believe the toxic haze is caused by a combination of still atmospheric conditions, agricultural burning and soaring numbers of cars and construction projects.

Researchers found that smog – caused by high levels of harmful PM 2.5 particles in the air – is at its worst in the country when farmers burn waste crops to cheaply clear their land between late October and April.

The seasonal lack of wind and rain, combined with a winter low-pressure system in which cold air is trapped closer to the ground by warm air above – prevent the pollution from being dispersed naturally.

The Thai government has been criticised for failing to tackle the country’s air pollution crisis, which worsened in 2019 leading to large numbers of people suffering from respiratory problems.

Measures introduced that year included spraying water into the air to increase humidity without success.

Data scientist engineer Worasom Kundhikanjana said: ‘PM 2.5 pollution has a seasonal trend in Bangkok and the northern provinces, but has only recently received public attention. During this winter haze, the harmful particle pollution level is high throughout the day, including on weekends.

‘Unfortunately, [spraying water] does not appear to be effective, since the volume of water is minuscule compared to actual rain.

‘With the start of the monsoon season, the weather in Bangkok will get better, and public attention on this issue will likely fade. However, without immediate policy measures, the problem will come back again next winter.’