As Bangkok Clears, Provinces Choke on Seasonal Smoke

A worker tries to put out forest fire in Phrae province in this undated photo.
A worker tries to put out forest fire in Phrae province in this undated photo.

PHRAE — Air pollution has surged in several northern and northeastern provinces Tuesday due to intense, open-air burning, with Phrae hit the worst.

Officials in the northern province of Phrae said a ban on open burning set to take place Friday has driven people to put fields and forest to the torch before it comes into effect, sending levels of the ultrafine particles over the city as high as 143 micrograms per cubic meter. Seven more northern provinces also saw pollution exceeding acceptable standards this morning.

Since last week, many provinces including Lampang, Khon Kaen and Nakhon Ratchasima have experienced heavy smog with forest fires cited as the main source.

Bangkok suffered unhealthy pollution for most of last month before it eased off recently. Public and media scrutiny sent officials scrambling to take action, though most measures such as spraying water and rinsing streets were criticized as ineffective. Schools were ordered closed three days and police were encouraged to fine drivers of vehicles with emissions over the legal limit. Though the air is clearer, levels were still at the low end of “unhealthy” on Tuesday.

Administrations in provinces with high levels of PM2.5, the smallest and most harmful type of particles, also opted to sprinkle water in public places. Many have also requested clouds be seeded to trigger rainfall.

This morning saw several areas in Phrae and Lampang with PM2.5 densities over 100 micrograms per cubic meter.

A level of 50 is considered acceptable; over 100 is considered unhealthy.

Levels of pollution also exceeded standards in Chiang Mai, Lamphun, Mae Hong Son, Nan, Phayao, Tak, Khon Kaen and Sara Buri provinces.

Phrae Gov. Pongrat Phiromrat said he ordered some forests off limits to the public to prevent more open burning.

While smog has been shaping up as a December-January problem in the capital, slash-and-burn agriculture has darkened skies in the north from February to March for years.

Lampang has also banned burning since this past Sunday through April 11, but administrators say several fires have been reported regardless.

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