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| 76 US AQI
PM2.5 concentration in Phitsanulok is currently 4.8 times the WHO annual air quality guideline value
|Sunday, Feb 18
Unhealthy for sensitive groups 111 AQI US
|Monday, Feb 19
Moderate 92 AQI US
|Tuesday, Feb 20
Moderate 85 AQI US
Moderate 76 AQI US
|Thursday, Feb 22
Moderate 72 AQI US
|Friday, Feb 23
Moderate 70 AQI US
|Saturday, Feb 24
Moderate 76 AQI US
|Sunday, Feb 25
Moderate 78 AQI US
|Monday, Feb 26
Moderate 80 AQI US
|Tuesday, Feb 27
Moderate 82 AQI US
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Phitsanulok is a city in Thailand that has a long history going back many centuries, once being part of the Angkorian empire. It was also once known as Song Khwae, meaning ‘two rivers due’ to its geographical location, although this has changed with the passage of time. In terms of its pollution levels, Phitsanulok has evidence of higher levels of contaminants in the air, with readings of PM2.5 taken towards the end of 2020 being indicative of some pollutive problems.
Readings as high as 67 μg/m³ were recorded in December, putting the city into the ‘unhealthy’ bracket for that particular time, which requires a PM2.5 reading of anywhere between 55.5 to 150.4 μg/m³ to be classified as such. Although this is not an average, with readings as high as this it certainly means that Phitsanulok will have several sources of pollution that are causing these unwanted spikes in PM2.5.
PM2.5 refers to particulate matter that is 2.5 micrometers or less in diameter. There is a larger version also used to calculate air quality known as PM10, but due to the much smaller size and danger presented by PM2.5, being roughly 3% the size of a human hair, it is used as a more pertinent gauge of how bad the air quality really is.
Whilst there were highs of 67 μg/m³ recorded in December, a month where many cities in Thailand see a spike in pollution, there were also lows of 9.1 μg/m³, with average readings of 20 to 40 μg/m³ being present throughout the months of November and December. These readings would make Phitsanulok sit in both the ‘moderate’ pollution bracket, albeit on the higher end, and the ‘unhealthy for sensitive groups’ bracket. These rating requires PM2.5 readings between 12.1 to 35.4 μg/m³ for moderate classification, and 35.5 to 55.4 μg/m³ for an unhealthy for sensitive groups rating. This indicates that Phitsanulok indeed has some problems with its air quality, the reasons as to why will be delved into shortly.
As with many cities in Thailand, Phitsanulok suffers from the same pollutive causes as well as having some unique to its region. Location also has a part to play, with recent years seeing the northern section of Thailand becoming increasingly polluted and sometimes outright unlivable during certain months of the year due to crop and forestland burning.
Vehicles have their part to play, particularly older models that have inefficient and outdated engines, as well as running on diesel fuels, which pump out larger quantities of pollution than their cleaner counterparts do, as well as some novel chemicals that are not found in internationally regulated fuels.
Traffic is a large contributor to pollution in Phitsanulok, with another source coming from construction sites. Phitsanulok is undergoing rapid growth and development, with the province being known somewhat as an east to west corridor to other countries such as Laos, Vietnam and Myanmar. As such, with a rise in economic activity comes a large increase in construction, which put out heavy amounts of fine particulate matter, as well as heavy metals and other unwanted contaminants. Other sources include the burning of biomass for fuel, often done in rural areas for household cooking.
Besides the issues of vehicular emissions as well as pollution arising from construction sites, Phitsanulok would also see polluting sources in factories located around the city. Factories worldwide are a constant source of ambient pollution, and oftentimes if strict regulations are not imposed on them, their pollutive output will be far greater than what it should be. For reference of the extent to which factories can affect air quality, the highly polluted countries of Bangladesh, Pakistan and India all have many issues regarding industrial emissions, with a large amount of their cities taking the top spot in the world’s worst pollution city rankings.
Factory smoke can contain pollution such as black carbon and volatile organic compounds (VOC’s), both of which are created via the incomplete combustion of fossil fuels (such as coal which many if not all of these factories use for their energy sources). Black carbon can cause damage to the lungs, heart and many other organs in the body, as well as having known carcinogenic properties.
With the previously mentioned use of biomass for fuel sources in rural areas, particularly for cooking, there are a large amount of documented health problems arising from this phenomenon. With a wide variety of fuels being used, such as wood, coal, dung and dead plant matter, the result can be exposure to some unwanted pollutants such as carbon monoxide (CO), nitrogen dioxide (NO2), the aforementioned black carbon and VOC’s such as benzene and formaldehyde, as well as polynuclear aromatic hydrocarbons.
The health risks of being exposed to such chemicals (as well as those in the more urban areas released by vehicles and construction sites) would include instances of developing chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), an umbrella term that has within it respiratory ailments such as bronchitis, pneumonia, emphysema and asthma.
Pregnant mothers are particularly at risk, with increased rates of miscarriage, premature and low birth weight, as well as babies being born with both cognitive and physical defects. Education is paramount in assisting in reducing exposure to certain demographics, besides government incentives.
Other health risks include ischemic heart disease, which arises as a result of the heart tissue receiving inadequate oxygen supply, as well as damage to the blood vessels, liver, kidneys and reproductive system, leading to a reduced quality of life as well as an increased mortality rate.
As with many cities across Thailand and Asia, particularly ones that are undergoing growth and development, the implementation of pollution reducing agendas becomes of increasing importance. For northern region cities such as Phitsanulok, the continued war against open burning conducted by farmers needs additional resources put into it, if it is to see any definitive results.
Other ways to improve the air quality of Phitsanulok are to phase out the use of unclean fuels used in rural areas, through the improvement of human resources and education. As mentioned before, the targeting of offending sources such as construction sites or factories can be put into place, with punishments such as fines or charges being meted out for businesses or sites that cause the pollution levels to rise excessively. These, along with the removal of ancient and poor-quality cars and trucks off the road, would go a long way towards helping improve the quality of air in Phitsanulok.