Dangerous haze in six Thai provinces

The Nation/Asia News Network AsiaOne 26 Feb 12;

Six province in the Upper North were covered by unsafe levels of haze, the Pollution Control Department reported yesterday.

Air in the provinces contained fine particles beyond the acceptable level of 120 micrograms per cubic metre (mg/m3).

The latest reading of particulate matter of up to 10 micrometres (PM10) in the province of Phayao was as high as 237 mg/m3, the agency warned.

Lampang had poor visibility of just 800 metres yesterday morning due to dust levels of 200 mg/m3.

This caused the air traffic control tower there to order a Bangkok Airways Bangkok-Lampang flight to circle the airport until visibility improved to 1,000 metres before landing, creating a one-hour delay.

The air-quality testing point at Yupparaj School in downtown Chiang Mai reported a level of 128 mg/m3.

A level of 173 was reported at Lampang's city shrine; while a station at Tambon Tha Si Health Promotion Hospital reported 207; and Mae Moh waterworks authority office reported 210.

Chiang Rai reported 152 mg/m3, Nan reported 152 and Phrae reported 233. In the region, only Mae Hong Son reported a safe level of 112.

Chief of Chiang Mai's environmental office 1 Apiwat Kunarak said the overall fine-particle dust situation was bad this year and might prove to be worse than 2007 for eight northern provinces in the long term.

Some places had already endured seven or eight days of unsafe fine-particle dust - compared to two or three days of unsafe readings at most places in 2007.

Apiwat said the situation was the result of people continuing to disregard authorities' request to stop outdoor burning, especially farmers clearing fields.

Chiang Mai Public Health deputy official Dr Surasing Wisarutrat said officials had asked schools not to make students line up outdoors for the morning flag-raising routine and would issue a formal letter tomorrow seeking their cooperation.

Some 50,000 facemasks were also dispatched to 25 district hospitals for distribution to respiratory patients, he said.

Chiang Rai Governor Thanin Supasaen invoked the Disaster Prevention and Mitigation Act 2007's Article 15, concerning forest-fire control and prevention, to require farmers near forests to ask permission from their kamnan, or village headman, before burning grass or farm waste and to build firebreaks. Lamphun Governor Surachai Khan-arsa instructed officials and local administrative bodies in Li, Thung Hua Chang, Ban Hong, Pa Sang, Mae Tha, Ban Thi, Wiang Nong Long and Muang districts to send 200 water trucks to spray all roads up to 10 times a day.

Lamphun was recording 2,500-3,000 respiratory patients a day.

Tak's Mae Sot and other border districts were covered with fine-particle dust created by outdoor burning in Thailand and Burma, causing eye irritation for some people, while motorists had to drive cautiously due to poor visibility.

Flights operated as normal, although some planes had to circle several times before landing due to poor visibility.