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Improvement in Air Quality in the North but still the burning continues

Soldiers from the Army’s 12th Calvary Battalion, The Thai Royal Air Force, the employees of the Office of Disaster Prevention and thousands of volunteers joined in to extinguish the thousands of fires that have polluted the skies over Chiang Mai, Chiang Rai and Mae Hong Son since the beginning of the month.

Provincial authorities estimate there are still upwards of 4000 fires burning or smoldering in the three provinces that were declared disaster zones by the Government of Thailand last week.

Government officials in Bangkok are considering removing the three affected provinces from the emergency disaster zones, according to Thailand’s Deputy Prime Minister and Social Development and Human Security Minister Paiboon Wattanasiritham. Mr. Paiboon, who also heads the smoke response program for the disaster areas, said the situation has improved and the haze blanketing northern Thailand has thinned in the past week due to better weather and the cooperation of agencies concerned. Chiang Mai Deputy Mayor Praphan said that the municipality has been distributing some 70,000 face masks and air filters with plans hand out an additional 30,000 if needed in the coming days.

Though local statistics have not yet been compiled it is estimated that the number of people sickened by the polluted air will reach into the thousands. In Mae Hong Son province, over 15,000 have sought medical help.

The air quality index monitored by the Pollution Control Board has shown a steady decline in air contaminants and the improvement has been attributed to the decrease of fires being set to clear brush. From a dangerous level of dust particles reaching 303 micrograms per cubic meter registered on March 14, the levels dropped to a healthier number of 64. The Thai Royal Air Force planes are still flying over Chiang Mai dropping tons of water in an effort to reduce the choking smoke. This was the first time the Royal Air Force was used in this type of operation. A C-130 and a BT-67 were loaded with thousands of gallons of water to then be dispersed in the air over Chiang Mai. In addition, airplanes from the Artificial Rain Making Center are also carrying out flights using chemicals to seed clouds in an effort to produce much needed rain over the city and surrounding areas

Worried about the negative effect on the local tourism business and a decline in arriving visitors, Chiang Mai Deputy Governor Wilas Rujiwatthanapong will be issuing an official letter to the consulates in the city and to all embassies in Bangkok detailing the current situation and the improvements that have been made in the past week to combat the pollution. The US Consulate General in Chiang Mai has posted a “message alert” on their website stating “American citizens living in or visiting northern Thailand need to take appropriate health-related precautions due to the unhealthy air quality northern Thailand is currently experiencing.”

From the Chiang Mai Mail, Issue Vol. VI No. 5 - Tuesday March 27 - April 2, 2007.
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