Haze shutters city schools
More tough action to come if dust persists
The government has decided to take drastic measures to combat persistent haze caused by ultra-fine dust particles that have shrouded Bangkok and its vicinity, by deploying troops to check on factories and ordering the temporary closure of schools.
In a rash of actions taken on Wednesday, the Education Ministry ordered a two-day closure of state and private schools, as well as vocational education institutions, starting Thursday. Most students were sent home at noon on Wednesday.
"While universities are allowed to remain open, we will ask them to suspend classes," said Education Minister Teerakiat Jareonsettasin.
That said, some major universities -- including Chulalongkorn and Thammasat universities -- have suspended all scheduled classes until tomorrow.
Despite the closures, Dr Teerakiat said the Ordinary National Education Test (O-Net) for Prathom 6 and Mathayom 3 -- which is scheduled over the weekend -- will not be deferred.
"The Education Ministry will decide on whether or not the closures will be extended to next week," said Dr Teerakiat. "We are monitoring the situation daily."
Bangkok governor Aswin Kwanmuang ordered the closure of 437 schools run by the Bangkok Metropolitan Administration (BMA) until tomorrow.
The order came into effect Wednesday at noon.
"The decision was made to safeguard small children from health risks," Pol Gen Aswin posted on his Facebook page.
The governor said 50 drones will be deployed to spray water in critically haze-hit areas today and tomorrow, he said, adding City Hall is prepared to send mobile medical units for those affected by the haze over the weekend.
Meanwhile, deputy Bangkok governor Taweesak Lertprapan said that tomorrow, City Hall will invite construction firms -- including those working on state projects -- to talk about possible measures to reduce the amount of dust coming from construction sites.
"More stringent measures will be rolled out next week," he said.
Regarding the proposal to install water sprinklers at high-rise buildings, Mr Taweesak said owners of the facilities would be called in for a meeting.
Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha instructed the Internal Security Operations Command (Isoc) to deploy forces in provinces to inspect pollutant emissions from factories.
"Soldiers will be checking factories to find out which ones are illegally discharging waste water, rubbish and toxic substances," said Gen Prayut, before vowing that vehicles and public buses which emit black exhaust fumes will be impounded right away.
"If the problem persists, I will only allow vehicles to operate on odd or even numbered dates," he said.
"If that fails, diesel-powered vehicles will be banned from haze-hit areas."
The premier also said that factories "should be prepared" to close during "mornings, afternoons, evenings, and other periods when dust volumes are high".
Separately, Energy Minister Siri Jirapongphan said that B20 fuels -- a blend that contains 20% biodiesel and 80% conventional diesel -- will be sold at 10 PTT and Bangchak petrol stations in Bangkok and its vicinity tomorrow.
B20 fuel, which is 5 baht cheaper that conventional diesel, is expected to reduce PM2.5 emissions from vehicles by 10-15%.
The series of tough measures were announced as the haze in Bangkok and its surrounding provinces continues to worsen.
Data from ten air quality monitoring stations in Bangkok indicates that PM2.5 levels across the capital average above 65 microgrammes per cubic metre (µg/m³) -- exceeding the safe threshold of 50 µg/m³ as set by the Pollution Control Department.
The highest PM2.5 reading came from a monitoring station in Kanchanaphisek Road in Bang Khuntian, which registered a reading of 102 µg/m³ at 6pm Wednesday.
Meanwhile, in neighbouring Samut Sakhon's Maha Chai area, the level of PM2.5 pollutants was measured to be as high as 137 µg/m³.