Expats And Locals Desperate For Chiang Mai Smog Remedy

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Published:  12 Apr at 6 PM
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Air pollution in Chiang Mai as a result of crop burning is an annual dry season problem affecting Thais and the sizeable expat community alike.

When King Mengrai founded Lanna’s capital city of Chiang Mai some 700 years ago, he set it with the Ping River as its heart in a valley surrounded on three sides by mountains. Were he alive today, he might well regret his decision, as the city’s geographic location is the main reason it suffers the most due to the dry season’s polluted air. It’s not just local crop and forest burning which causes the dangerous smog, as the winds carry the pollution from even larger agricultural fires in Myanmar, Laos and the Shan State, dumping it directly on the city and reminding older British expats of the deadly London smogs in the 1950s.

For several decades, Chiang Mai has been a popular retirement destination for expatriates from Western countries, many of whom relocate to southern Thai beachside resorts during the average two to three weeks when the pollution breaches safety standards. However, this year has seen an unprecedented level of pollutants in the air for far longer than in previous years, to the extent the city was named the most poisonous on the planet on several occasions, even beating out China. According to experts at Chiang Mai University, a warmer-air climate inversion traps the pollution close to the ground, making it even more dangerous for Thais and the expat community.

One CMU professor specialising in allergies and pulmonary care told the media the city’s lung cancer rates are unusually high and are affecting average mortality rates, as not only are this year’s PM2.5 levels heading off the charts, the deadly pollution is now found in homes as well as on the streets and even in hospitals. The publicity given to this year’s ultra-high readings has meant a decline in tourism numbers during the annual Songkran New Year festival, and the calls for a state of emergency to be declared have so far been ignored. Right now, both the Thai and expat communities are praying for a start to the rainy season, due some two weeks from now, as well as for as permanent a solution as can be found in order to slash health risks during next year’s burning season.

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