Heavy Smog, Worsened by Weather, Raises Alarm Across Asia

A woman on Monday wears a protective mask while waiting for a bus during smoggy conditions in Bangkok. Photo: Sakchai Lalit / Associated Press

BANGKOK — Unusually high levels of smog worsened by weather patterns are raising alarm across Asia, with authorities in Thailand’s hazy capital Bangkok opting to hand out face masks and step up enforcement of pollution controls.

A combination of construction dust, auto exhaust and other pollutants, lingering over Bangkok due to prevailing weather patterns, has taken air quality to unhealthy levels in recent days.

“I admit these are temporary solutions but we have to do it. Other long term measures will also be implemented, Pol Gen Aswin Kwanmuang told a meeting of army, police, pollution control and other officials on Monday.

The city was handing out some 10,000 face masks, spraying water to help settle dust and tightening controls on when big trucks can use city streets — the Thai Pollution Control Department said that about half of the high levels of PM 2.5, tiny particulate matter that can dangerously clog lungs, was due to diesel engine emissions.


In South Korea, unusually high PM 2.5 levels prompted emergency measures to reduce the health hazard. The country’s National Institute of Environmental Research said the daily average of 120 micrograms per cubic meter as of late Monday afternoon was the worst since it began monitoring for PM 2.5 in 2015.

Over the years, South Korea has suffered repeated spells when silt and pollution-laden winds have swept over from northern China. But vehicle emissions are also a problem.

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A visitor on Monday wearing a mask rides a bicycle along the Han river at a park in Seoul, South Korea. Photo: Lee Jin-man / Associated Press

South Korea has been fighting an acute rise in air pollution that experts link to emission from the country’s increasing number of cars and also to China’s massive industrial activity.

Thailand’s air pollution problem tends to wax and wane partly depending on the season. As in much of the rest of Asia, burning of fields after harvests can cause severe smog at certain times of the year.

The spring smog has come early to this tropical city.

“There are a lot of factories and now that the pollution score is higher we have to be more careful,” said Oranart Phongpreecha, 55, a housewife who lives just outside of Bangkok.

“It’s not that I get sick more often. But when I go outside, I have a sore throat and I can’t see clearly. … I’m afraid that polluted air is going into my lungs so I have to protect myself.”

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Bangkok road crews on Monday spray water in hopes to control heavy smog in Bangkok, Thailand. Photo: Sakchai Lalit / Associated Press

Pralong Dumrongthai, head of the Thai Pollution Control Department, said long term solutions would include switching to use of electric vehicles and better quality gasoline.

He said the weather patterns suggest Bangkok might be stuck with bad air for up to three months.

“I ask for public understanding when your vehicles are being checked, especially those that emit black smoke or big trucks,” he said. “We need your cooperation.”

Pollution generally is out of control by the time countries take action. India’s cities are among the world’s smoggiest and it is just starting to tackle the problem.

The Indian government on Sunday announced a five-year program to cut air pollution by up to 30 percent from 2017 levels in the country’s 102 worst-affected cities.


Key targets include reducing burning of field waste, firewood and charcoal, cleaning up thermal power and auto emissions and heavily polluting brick production and controlling dust from construction.

Critics said the plan lacked details on enforcement and funding.

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A boat on Monday crosses the Chao Phraya river with the cityscape covered smog in Bangkok, Thailand. Photo: Sakchai Lalit / Associated Press
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On Monday, police officers wearing a mask stand guard in heavy smog in Seoul, South Korea. Photo: Lee Jin-man / Associated Press

Story: Tassanee Vejpongsa and Kaweewit Kaewjinda