Getting tough on PM2.5

Getting tough on PM2.5

This past week has seen two events linked to attempts to solve the problem of PM2.5 fine dust particles. Wednesday marked the opening of the National Environment Information Centre (NEIC), a 200-million-baht big data analytics centre related to air and dust particle problems.

The centre is run by the Digital Economy and Society Ministry (DES). DES Minister Chaiwut Thanakamanusorn said it will process and analyse information collected from 8,000 air quality monitoring stations in 900 districts nationwide.

The data on dust particles such as PM1, PM2.5 and PM10 including temperature, humidity, air pressure as well as wind speed and direction will be integrated and displayed in RGuard, a mobile app which the ministry plans to launch to keep the public updated on air quality.

Earlier on Tuesday, seven environmental groups filed a lawsuit against the National Environment Board (NEB), Natural Resources and the Environment Ministry and the Industry Ministry at the Central Administrative Court.

They accused these agencies of being negligent in carrying out their duties related to solving air pollution.

The lawsuit claims they failed to do their job by faithfully executing the policy and action plans contained in the national master plan on air pollution.

In 2019 the junta-appointed government, led by Gen Prayut Chan-o-cha, announced that solving the PM2.5 crisis was a national priority. He approved the national master plan and other action plans to address the issue.

They included a 2021 deadline for the introduction of the European (Euro 5) emission standard, a zero-burning policy for sugarcane farmers by this year, and limiting the sulphur content in fuel to 10 parts per million by Jan 1, 2024.

The plans included detailed data regarding the five main sources of air pollution, namely transport, outdoor burning, industry, construction activities and cross-border haze.

The only problem is none of these plans has been turned into action.

In addition, the group has pressured the NEB to level up the nation's benchmark for atmospheric micro-pollutants measuring less than 2.5 micrometres in line with World Health Organization (WHO) recommendations.

The WHO sets the safe threshold for exposure over a 24-hour period at 37 microgrammes per cubic metre (μg/m³) of air, or 15μg/m³ annually. Thailand's Pollution Control Department (PCD) uses a lower standard of 50µg/m³, claiming the WHO's target is unrealistic.

Lawsuits filed by these environmental groups reflect the urgent need to resolve air pollution problems.

For years, policy-makers kept on spraying water, closing schools and asking people to remain indoors instead of getting to the root of the matter.

Thais now have sufficient digital access to keep themselves informed about air pollution. Many have downloaded related apps on their phones. These include Air4Thai, a state app developed by the PCD, and the popular AirVisual app.

For years, villagers in the northern region have used DUSTBOY, a local app and air monitoring platform developed by researchers at Chiang Mai University.

State satellites give academics even more sophisticated data, such as on transboundary pollution or bush fires.

But people may not want to rely on an app or digital project. The public needs policy-makers with the political courage to make tough decisions for the sake of their health and the environment.


Bangkok Post editorial column

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