Lacking a better response to the growing air pollution, some Bangkokians have resorted to dealing with the issue individually.
Options include purchasing and wearing professional-grade breathing masks, installing pricey air-purifying machines, avoiding prolonged outdoor exposure in more congested and polluted parts of town, moving to less-polluted parts of the city or better still – for those truly desperate – migrating to another, less-polluted city in Thailand.
Any of the above measures are individual responses to the growing problem of small dust particles – particularly those invisible to the naked eye.
Every cool and dry season, Bangkokians hear warnings from the Pollution Control Department about dangerous air quality and are instructed to avoid prolonged outdoor exposure.
Such warnings are issued every now and then during the dry season, despite the government lacking in fully equipped air pollution measuring tools.
Currently, only six – less than half – of the 13 air pollution-measuring stations in Bangkok are equipped with machines capable of properly measuring the concentration of these dust particles – known as PM 2.5 – small enough to penetrate the thoracic region of human respiratory system.
A full set of measuring machines for all stations is not expected for another three years, according the department.
That leaves us with the question. How exactly can we know how bad and dangerous the air we breathe is?
I’m not immune to scary news – and was advised by a colleague to install a mobile application called AirVisual – and the day I read the warnings about Bangkok’s dangerous air quality on Tuesday, I checked the application.
On that day, the app described the air quality at the office – not far from Lat Phrao area – as “unhealthy.”
Yet I am not sure if I can fully trust its accuracy.
Trust or no trust, I have begun to feel irritated in my nose and throat and frankly, I do not know if I am merely imagining the sensations as a result of reading about the news on the local media or whether this is a real condition.
It takes no imagination or hallucinations to recognize that many people are still confused, if not illiterate, when it comes to understanding the magnitude of air pollution in Bangkok and how to read the air quality index.
We need to make people literate about the air pollution index as much as we expect that anyone to know 40C is extremely hot weather.
The mass media should also start to seriously consider making detailed reports about the air quality index and make it an integral part of its daily weather report. Standardized, concise and easily understandable indexes and information are needed on a daily basis – not just for Bangkok, but other big cities at risk such as Chiang Mai.
The problem of how to handle air-pollution in Bangkok is a clear example of not only how vulnerable we are, but how a collective effort in solving – if not mitigating – the severity of the problem is almost completely lacking.
There exists absolutely no control over the endlessly growing number of motor vehicles in Bangkok. Very little or no control exists on the number of high-rise building permitted to be built in Bangkok. More cars and more tall buildings – which act as walls trapping small dust particles, and attract even more cars – mean more severe air pollution.
Bangkok’s air pollution is a classic case of a complex problems that requires not just recognition, long-term planning, but collaboration and political will to tackle.
For the meantime, Bangkokians can continue to find their own individual way to cope with the problem the best they can – hallucination or not.