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Cablegate: Hazardous Air Quality On the Rise in Northern Thailand

VZCZCXRO6808
PP RUEHCN RUEHDT RUEHHM RUEHLN RUEHMA RUEHPB RUEHPOD
DE RUEHCHI #0050/01 0880040
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
P 280040Z MAR 08
FM AMCONSUL CHIANG MAI
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC PRIORITY 0715
INFO RUEAEPA/EPA WASHINGTON DC
RUEHZN/ENVIRONMENT SCIENCE AND TECHNOLOGY COLLECTIVE
RUEHZS/ASSOCIATION OF SOUTHEAST ASIAN NATIONS
RUEHCHI/AMCONSUL CHIANG MAI 0771

UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 02 CHIANG MAI 000050

SIPDIS

SIPDIS

EAP/EX

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: SENV EAGR AMED TH BM
SUBJECT: HAZARDOUS AIR QUALITY ON THE RISE IN NORTHERN THAILAND

REF: A. A. 2007 CHIANG MAI 41

B. B. 2007 CHIANG MAI 51

CHIANG MAI 00000050 001.2 OF 002


-------
Summary
-------

1. With poor air quality levels surpassing the safety threshold,
Chiang Mai and the northern provinces of Thailand are facing
another hazy March. Small dust particle (PM10) measurements
have peaked at hazardous levels sparking a concerned response
from the Royal household. Post staff and families have felt the
impact of the poor air quality in a wave of respiratory
illnesses. While a cloud of haze blankets the city, however,
public warnings of potential dangers remain low. At present,
poor air quality continues to rise and will likely worsen before
it improves with the coming of the rainy season expected in
early May. End Summary.

-------------------------------
PM10 Climbs to Hazardous Levels
-------------------------------

2. March is known in Chiang Mai for rising temperatures and
declining air quality (refs A and B). This March is no
different, with hazardous air quality levels on the rise, a
result primarily of slash-and-burn farming techniques still
practiced in northern Thailand and Burma. The air quality is
measured by the level of dust particles smaller than 10 microns
in the air, termed PM10. When the level of PM10 in the air is
below 120 micrograms per cubic meter, the Pollution Control
Department of Thailand deems the level of dust "safe."

3. So far this year, PM10 levels peaked twice, first from March
6 to 7 and again on March 24. During the first peak in early
March, the three air quality monitoring stations located in
Chiang Mai reported levels as high as 141, 138, and 144
micrograms per cubic meter. On March 24, the levels climbed to
154, 170 and 206 micrograms per cubic meter. These published
PM10 levels are daily averages of hourly measurements. Certain
times in the day, especially dusk, face higher PM10 levels; but
these peaks are lost in the averaging system. The three
monitoring sites in Chiang Mai are located at the Provincial
Hall, the Yupparat School, and the Royal Family's Phuping Palace
atop Doi Suthep mountain at the city's edge.

------------------------
A Royal Pain in the Neck
------------------------

4. The Phuping Palace monitoring station, set up in February
because of concerns of forest fires erupting dangerously close
to the palace grounds, suggests high-level RTG awareness of the
air quality crisis. Phuping Palace is the Royal family's summer
home in Chiang Mai, and is located atop Doi Suthep, Chiang Mai's
landmark mountain which sits barely visible behind the thick
cloud of haze blanketing the city. This March's PM10 levels
have caught the attention of King Bhumibol Adulyadej, who has
requested daily reports on the haze situation in the north. In
remarks that made front-page news March 26, the King told the
press that if the situation did not improve, he would order
artificial rainmaking to relieve the air pollution.

---------------------------------
Consulate Staff Under the Weather
---------------------------------

5. Post staff has already felt the impact of declining air
quality in the city. Both American and Thai staff and family
members have reported becoming sick with respiratory ailments
and eye irritation. At least 10 members of the Consulate
community have visited post's nurse with respiratory problems
since March 7. Symptoms have included severe coughing, sinus
and respiratory infections, allergy attacks, and eye irritation.
According to the Pollution Control Department, PM10 is among
the most harmful air pollutants, causing many kinds of
respiratory illnesses due to dust particles that get lodged deep
in the lungs.

-------
Comment
-------

6. Because official PM10 levels are reported as averages,
variation of air quality levels throughout any given day are
lost, and daily levels can appear artificially low. Moreover,
the paucity of public warnings of hazardous air quality,
combined with falsely reassuring announcements from the
provincial government that air conditions are still far from
hazardous, leave much of the public unconcerned of the dangers

CHIANG MAI 00000050 002.2 OF 002


of breathing the air outside. Meanwhile, PM10 levels continue
to rise; and air quality could likely worsen before it improves
with the coming of the rainy season expected in early May.
MORROW

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