Govt takes flak over haze

Dust ef­forts not good enough, say stu­dents


The gov­ern­ment must come up with more prac­ti­cal mea­sures to tackle the ul­tra-fine PM2.5 dust, es­pe­cially since its na­tional agenda on haze man­age­ment ap­pears to have made lit­tle progress over the past year, uni­ver­sity stu­dents said.

“The sea­sonal dust pol­lu­tion has re­turned, it just never goes away,” said Omthip Koet­phon, a fourth-year com­mu­ni­ca­tion arts stu­dent from Chu­la­longkorn Uni­ver­sity, who yes­ter­day led 20 fel­low stu­dents to file a com­plaint with au­thor­i­ties at the Gov­ern­ment House.

The stu­dents also urged the gov­ern­ment to adopt bet­ter mea­sures such as in­stalling more dust de­tec­tors, and take more dras­tic mea­sures such as ban­ning open-air fires or even clos­ing down pol­lut­ing fac­to­ries to curb dust at its source.

Son­thi Kotchawat, an en­vi­ron­men­tal ex­pert in the House’s sub-com­mit­tee on air pol­lu­tion said the gov­ern­ment’s work on air pol­lu­tion is ham­pered by “struc­tural prob­lems”.

“Thai­land doesn’t have an agency with full author­ity to or­der pol­lut­ing ac­tiv­i­ties. We need an om­nipo­tent agency like the United States En­vi­ron­men­tal Pro­tec­tion Agency that can or­der any ac­tiv­i­ties that gen­er­at­ing pol­lu­tion to stop,” said Mr Son­thi, who also held a high post at the En­vi­ron­ment Min­istry.

Nei­ther the Pol­lu­tion Con­trol Depart­ment, nor the En­vi­ron­ment Min­istry have the author­ity to or­der fac­to­ries to stop pol­lut­ing or stop trucks from en­ter­ing the city, he said, as if ex­plain­ing why the pol­lu­tion prob­lem ex­ists.

Smog of PM2.5, with par­tic­u­late mat­ter less than 2.5 mi­crome­tres in di­am­e­ter, has shrouded the cap­i­tal since last week.

“We want the gov­ern­ment to stop ac­tiv­i­ties that emit dust im­me­di­ately,” Ms Omthip said. “Au­thor­i­ties should also con­sider keep­ing the price of face masks low, es­pe­cially at a time when the dust lev­els are so high and not many can af­ford them.”

The ad­min­is­tra­tion put fighting air pol­lu­tion on the top of its agenda on Feb 12 last year, when Bangkok and many neigh­bour­ing prov­inces were hit by dan­ger­ous pol­lu­tants. Yet, de­spite all these prom­ises, the level of air pol­lu­tion has barely budged.

Rain that soaked west­ern Bangkok yes­ter­day did not re­duce dan­ger­ously high dust lev­els in eight dis­tricts, namely Phra Nakhon, Klong San, Bang Kho­laem, Klong Toey, Wang Thonglang, Bung Kum, Laksi and Bang Khen, ac­cord­ing to the city’s Air Qual­ity and Noise Man­age­ment Di­vi­sion.

Pol­lu­tion was recorded at be­tween 53 and 109 mi­cro­grammes per cu­bic me­tre (μg/m³) against the so-called safe limit of 50 μg/m³.

Many ar­eas in Lam­pang prov­ince have un­der­gone a sim­i­lar sit­u­a­tion for nine con­sec­u­tive days while other prov­inces like Chi­ang Mai are be­gin­ning to bear the brunt, the of­fi­cial said.

Gen Prayut, mean­while, is plead­ing with so­ci­ety to un­der­stand why the gov­ern­ment is un­able to take dras­tic mea­sures.

“If the air pol­lu­tion wors­ens, the gov­ern­ment can or­der trucks and ve­hi­cles not to en­ter the city. My ques­tion is who will be hardest hit by such dras­tic mea­sures? In­stead, we should help each other over­come this prob­lem,” he said.

In Bangkok, traf­fic is the main source of pol­lu­tion, ac­count­ing for 72.5% of the dust, fol­lowed by 17% from fac­to­ries, the premier said. Trucks are be­lieved to be the big­gest pol­luters.

En­vi­ron­ment Min­is­ter Varawut Silpa-ar­cha said yes­ter­day the Pol­lu­tion Con­trol Com­mit­tee is pre­par­ing to pro­pose strin­gent mea­sures to bet­ter deal with the pol­lu­tion, but did not elab­o­rate.

“I’d rather ask whether so­ci­ety can re­ally ac­cept those mea­sures if they come into ef­fect,” he said.

Mr Varawut also said the pol­lu­tion wasn’t so bad be­cause the gov­ern­ment has launched many mea­sures, no­tably moves to curb pol­lut­ing ve­hi­cles. He said the level of PM2.5 is less than in the same pe­riod last year.

How­ever, the over­all air qual­ity in Thai­land is get­ting worse, ac­cord­ing to the Pol­lu­tion Con­trol Depart­ment which re­leased its 2019 pol­lu­tion re­port yes­ter­day.

The lev­els of PM2.5, PM10 and ozone, mea­sured in 34 prov­inces, were more than those in 2018, depart­ment chief Pra­long Dam­rongthai said, adding Lam­pang, Chi­ang Mai, Chi­ang Rai, Nan, Lam­phun, Phrae, Khon Kaen and Saraburi saw the num­ber of “bad days”, with pol­lu­tants go­ing be­yond lim­its, ex­ceed 20%.

The num­ber of hotspots in the North, which in­di­cate heat sources, also soared by 54% from 2018. They were linked to wild­fires which in­creased PM10 lev­els.

As for other types of pol­lu­tants, the re­port found the amount of garbage in­creased by 3% from 2018 to 28.7 mil­lion tonnes.

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