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Smoke, Smog, Dust 2013 Chiang Mai

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Just returned to Pai - very hot, dry and hazy. 2 forest fires seen burning last night on the mountains to the West; mountains cannot be seen this morning. Unusually strong South winds until midnight but calm and light smoke smell in the air this morning.

We saw a few mountain fires last night as well, and just at dusk, the local farmers torched some brush. With this dry weather, the smokey season could come again if the wind quits. The sun has been frying hot the last few days.

Addition: Just noticed that the visibility is down to about three miles. The smoke is indeed coming back.

Edited by T_Dog

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Just back from Mae Sai. The area north of Khun Chae NP around Doi Mot & the hot springs is smoking. So much smoke coming from near the mountain tops, I thought it might be an area of active volcanoes. After crossing the pass on 118, south of Khun Chae, towards CM, the forest was green, the air much clearer.

Edited by MESmith

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Mapguy, thanks, yes...

Yes, the infamous London 'killer smog' did lead to correction. But the notion that somehow modern 1952 England acted quickly and right away is not the case; this killing smoke occurred after decades of 'pea soupers' that were doing the same killing, more slowly, since well before that century began. It was not identified and accepted as a problem for decades, since we humans don't like to change; also, someone's economic interests opposed such a change. That's the same here. Consider those unconcerned by global warming, sez I, before chiding oriental farmers who don't 'get' it.

I guess that's my point: Thais behave exactly as have we expats and our ancestors. Knowledge fights against perceived economic interests before much ever happens. I suggest that everyone here complaining about evolutions in Thailand have little memory of their own nation's struggles to their present conditions. And that's why we feel that we have the standing to complain

Excellent point!

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Mapguy, thanks, yes...

Yes, the infamous London 'killer smog' did lead to correction. But the notion that somehow modern 1952 England acted quickly and right away is not the case; this killing smoke occurred after decades of 'pea soupers' that were doing the same killing, more slowly, since well before that century began. It was not identified and accepted as a problem for decades, since we humans don't like to change; also, someone's economic interests opposed such a change. That's the same here. Consider those unconcerned by global warming, sez I, before chiding oriental farmers who don't 'get' it.

I guess that's my point: Thais behave exactly as have we expats and our ancestors. Knowledge fights against perceived economic interests before much ever happens. I suggest that everyone here complaining about evolutions in Thailand have little memory of their own nation's struggles to their present conditions. And that's why we feel that we have the standing to complain

Excellent point!

Such a shame that thailand can't learn from other country's experiences. Always feel they have to reinvent the wheel. Up to them, their cuntry.

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60 years ago England and the US were trail blazing into new territory on environmental issues like air quality.

Thailand has the benefit of studying everyone else's successes and failures.

They should be nailing it.. There is no comparison of difficulty.

It's like the difference between inventing the internet and simply deploying a WAN.

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Just noticed Google Maps must have had it's satellite data for Chiang Mai updated recently as you can see the haze.

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Hark !! Yonder !! The fat lady approaches to sing the final aria in Chiang Mai's annual seasonal smoky opera! 'Tis 1 May, but, alas, she ain't sung just yet, I fear.

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Hark !! Yonder !! The fat lady approaches to sing the final aria in Chiang Mai's annual seasonal smoky opera! 'Tis 1 May, but, alas, she ain't sung just yet, I fear.

Air has been quite good up in Mae Taeng, but yesterday we went about 20 km up HWY-1095 toward Pai and our eyes were stinging. The air up there was quite bad so we had a very quick breakfast and retreated. This morning we can smell smoke and it is more hazy than yesterday. Still waiting for WTK's statistics as it sure feels like a more prolonged smoke season than usual. Hark indeed!

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Hark !! Yonder !! The fat lady approaches to sing the final aria in Chiang Mai's annual seasonal smoky opera! 'Tis 1 May, but, alas, she ain't sung just yet, I fear.

Air has been quite good up in Mae Taeng, but yesterday we went about 20 km up HWY-1095 toward Pai and our eyes were stinging. The air up there was quite bad so we had a very quick breakfast and retreated. This morning we can smell smoke and it is more hazy than yesterday. Still waiting for WTK's statistics as it sure feels like a more prolonged smoke season than usual. Hark indeed!

Burning has been going on since December building to the peaks of the last couple of months,that is almost one third of the year!

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Indeed, Thailand, indeed!

I know from the "horse's mouth," that is, an officer of the Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment (who, I assure you, knows what he is talking about), one of the "tactics" for solving the problem is to extend the burning season so that the 'danger levels" are less likely to be exceeded. Cute! Wonder if they have discussed this with TAT or health authorities.

Now, about "danger levels." We are talking about particulate matter (PM) standards. Here, things get somewhat confusing. Hang in there, if you can bear it!

Standards and goals for new standards vary by country and organizations like the WHO. And the capacity to deal effectively with the problem varies from country to countr. For now, I am going to pick US EPA Standards, to keep it simple. They are not extreme. Here is an easy reference to them:

http://www.wunderground.com/health/pm.asp

You will notice there are two sets of standards. One for PM 2.5 and one for PM<10. Those are two sizes of particles. The smaller size is part of the higher total. "Normally," 40 - 60%, or about half, of airborne PM are the smaller size. What we in Chiang Mai and Thailand see reported commonly are only the PM<10 numbers. The ominous part of all this is that the smaller particles (< 2.5) have a much greater impact on health than larger (2.5 - 10) ones. There is a quite a bit of research that has been done and continues to be done on this, a lot of it focused on short term as well as long term exposure risk. You can look it up.

Now, here's OUR problem here in Chiang Mai, here in Thailand. You won't like this at all.

Normally, about 50% of PM<10 consists of PM<2.5 stuff. (I could use another "S" word, but this is a family site, right?!) BUT there is an accepted peer-reviewed study of the burning rice straw done a few years ago in Thailand that found that about 90% of PM emissions from rice straw burning are PM<2.5, NOT 50%, in size. Remember, the nasty stuff is the smaller stuff, small enough to get into your blood stream, not just make you cough and sneeze. Google here to read the study: "CHARACTERIZATION OF PARTICULATE MATTER EMISSION FROM OPEN BURNING OF RICE STRAW." One warning is not to go cross-eyed reading the study. Plough through the study abstract and the conclusions (Bad enough!), and you will get the point.

Next, take a look at the US EPA standards and the health consequences again at http://www.wunderground.com/health/pm.asp. See how the impact levels --- what happens to health --- shift with various standards. Simple conclusion: Basically, the PM pollution we have seasonally throughout Northern Thailand (often expressed in number of "bad days") is actually more dangerous than you might think. Or, to put it another way, the number of days with dangerous levels is actually greater than is reported by Thailand given its PM<10 standard..

So, then read the happy pronouncements of the deputy governor published regularly by Chiang Mai's appalling lapdog English media, such as City News and Chiang Mai Mail, and think about it. Those basically publish PR releases and social news and pictures plus personal opinion pieces. Pap PR and narcissistic journalism at best, it seems! But more on that later!

The fat lady ain't sung yet!

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Air has been quite good up in Mae Taeng, but yesterday we went about 20 km up HWY-1095 toward Pai and our eyes were stinging. The air up there was quite bad so we had a very quick breakfast and retreated. This morning we can smell smoke and it is more hazy than yesterday. Still waiting for WTK's statistics as it sure feels like a more prolonged smoke season than usual.

Yes indeed. Or at least, it started later, but continued longer; February this year was one of the best months on record. But April still saw some relatively high values in the days before Songkran. Overall the year was slightly better than the 10 year average, both when measured in total days over the local standard, and in average daily PM10 levels across the season.

Days over 120 µg/m3: 11 (5-year average 14, 10-year average 17)

February average: 57.9 (5-year average 65.5, 10-year average 77.0)

March average: 99.1 (5-year average 99.7, 10-year average 108.7)

April average: 76.0 (5-year average 69.1, 10-year average 64.2)

Here is a table that shows more detail, showing the monthly averages 10 years back:

post-64232-0-67020200-1367416512_thumb.j

Notes and disclaimers:

  • The purpose of giving numbers is to see how things change over time. It is not to make any point on how big the problem is or how small; it IS a big problem or we wouldn't be talking about it every year.
  • 120 µg/m3 is the local standard. It does not mean that there is no problem at values below it, it's just used as a yardstick for comparisons. Some countries use a higher standard, some use a stricter one. For the US EPA index for example, the 'unhealthy' warning only kicks in at a PM10 of 151 (which corresponds to 100 on the US AQI index) Some European countries with marine climates experience very low PM10 levels, and have much stricter standards. (including the UK).
  • No claim on health effects is made or implied. This is just to compare particulate matter pollution levels over time. It's like measuring earthquakes: nice to know how big or small it was on a Richter scale, but in the end it's just a number; the most relevant metric is if your house is still standing.

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Winnie's post is fine except for the major point I was making above. First, the nature of the post reminds me of a story, the love triangle of Pricilla Mullens-Miles Standish-John Alden. Pricilla Mullens (in the story) said to John who was very, very shy: "Why don't you speak for yourself, John?" Whom do you speak for, Winnie? I recognize that chart which ended abruptly mid-season during the last burning season. Well, whatever...

What follows isn't as mysterious as it looks!

Differing standards are understandable. There are indeed various standards. The major point I was trying to make in my last post was that we may locally have been using the wrong numbers over the years, basically going along with Thailand's PM<10 set of standards as noted (not completely) above by Winnie. A time series is useful. So are month-to-month comparisons, if you feel they are relevant. But, using numbers adjusted for the percentage of deadly PM<2.5 in the air (90% of PM<10 from rice straw burning not the commonly applied 40 - 60%), the trend may be the same, but the problem is actually more serious than we thought. If you apply that to how many "bad" or "pretty bad" days there have been, you are not going to be happier. Use the Priceless' number-cruinching technique; just apply another factor.

All that said, this may be still pissing into cyberspace. I am just saying the problem is worse than we thought, even though it is getting somewhat better over time !!

And all that said, it is true, as noted above by Priceless; excuse me, Winnie.

Hope your eyes have not glazed over! Otherwise, peck away! Peck away!

The fat lady still ain't sung!

Edited by Mapguy

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Now, to change the tune! What about the local English language media?

IMHO,City News and the Chiang Mai Mail rarely do any serious reporting. They lap up press releases. Try this recent "breaking news" post by City News. You have to love it!!!:


http://www.chiangmaicitynews.com/news.php?id=1722


Hellloo!! Give us a break! Too busy, girls, covering the social scene at depth and printing all the PR flaks send you? Really doesn't hack it !!! You don't have to suddenly field experienced investigative teams of reporters, but at least start doing some serious reporting based on serious questions.


But my favorite this year has absolutely got to be the Chiang Mai Mail "report" very early in this burning season about the new effort to put out fires with a "file photo" of a burning field with nothing going on that indicated anyone fighting a fire! But, more recently, a MUCH more dramatic photo (no doubt provided by the Army's PR staff) about all the good work the Army has been doing! Still not even one firefighter in evidence getting singed! You have to love it !!!

Anyone seen soldiers fighting fires? The number of fires was reported in the PR release, as of that date or about so How many soldiers? How many fires put out? Where?

How many arrests? How many fines? And so on!

What has anyone really done effectively?

What journalism? Who? What? Where? When? Why? Or "Why not?"

Publishing PR releases, various birthday greetings, reporting ad nauseum on the social scene with copious photos, and narcissistic features doesn't add up to good journalism.

In the meantime, let's hope people don't set off a really serious conflagration. It is very, very, dry out there on the slopes and in the fields.

Edited by Mapguy

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Moving right along, given that we are hopefully approaching the end of our annual season of smoky discontent, what about the ongoing problem of the impact of diesel fumes?

The children will soon return to school if not behind their desks already. I happened across the following Q&A and started thinking about songtao with the diesel exhaust curling up into the back packed with children (if not directly into the face of motorcyclists trailing these belching buses):

http://www.nrdc.org/air/transportation/qbus.asp#why

Thailand has begun to go down the route of alternative fuels, mainly due, I believe, to economic conditions (cost) than environmental concerns, but it is a slow journey! Switching to alternative fuels is also an expensive proposition. It is interesting to read above about the questionable value of "green diesel."

I, for one, am basically a fan of the song tao system while definitely not a fan of the fuel used. I wouldn't mind paying more for a ride to take some of the burden of the additional cost, not that I think placing 30 instead of 20 bhat in the hands of a driver is the answer!!

Edited by Mapguy

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