High quality masks needed for pollution

national February 17, 2018 03:00

By PRATCH RUJIVANAROM
THE NATION

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Bangkok PM2.5 levels at less than critical levels, but staying indoors better option.



HEALTH experts have warned people that they specifically need the high-quality N95-standard facemask to protect themselves from severe air pollution, while Department of Disease Control (DDC) has singled out the traffic police, motorcycle taxi riders, and road cleaners to warn them that they are among the most at-risk groups during high air-pollution periods.

Though yesterday’s report from Pollution Control Department (PCD) revealed that air quality in Bangkok has improved, many parts of the country still suffer from severe air pollution. Health experts are recommending that people in areas of poor air quality wear N95-standard facemasks to prevent health threats from exposure to particulate matter smaller than 2.5 microns (PM2.5).

Chulalongkorn University’s Faculty of Science lecturer Jessada Denduangboripant said that the health risk of PM2.5 was linked to their tiny size, which allows the particles to pass through our body’s defences and be absorbed directly into our bloodstream. But, Jessada said, the PM2.5 level in Bangkok was not as critical as many people feared and that they could choose to stay indoors to avoid exposure to air pollution.

“Healthy people can still go out and do their normal daily outdoor life activities, unless they work outside for a long time in areas with high air pollution. In this case, I suggest they wear a N95 face mask, which can filter up to 95 per cent of the particulate matters of only 0.3 microns in diameter,” Jessada said.

Bangkok residents will be able to breathe more comfortably again next month, as PM2.5-related air pollution will decline. Nevertheless, he suggested, people could help in preventing air pollution by reducing their use of private cars.

Dr Chantana Padungtod, director of the Disease Control Department’s Occupational and Environmental Diseases Bureau, singled out the workers in the three riskiest jobs for exposure to air pollution – traffic police, motorcycle taxi riders, and road cleaners. Chantana said that roadsides have the worst air quality and highest density of PM2.5. People working roadside should wear N95 face masks at all times to prevent airborne health threats, she said.

Environmental health expert Sonthi Kotchawat cited research at the University of Birmingham that found both PM2.5 and PM10 contained many toxic substances, including sulphates, nitrates, chloride, organic carbon, elemental carbon, iron and calcium, and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs).

Sonthi said PAHs are caused by the incomplete burning of fuel in the engine, which can be found in the exhaust from cars. 

The World Health Organisation (WHO) has listed PAHs as carcinogenic since 2013. 

He warned that inhaling large amount of very fine particulate matter from the roadside was very dangerous to health and could lead to many diseases, including strokes, heart disease, and respiratory diseases.

According to the PCD’s air quality monitoring system, air quality in Bangkok is now improving, and yesterday was the first time in recent days that the PM2.5 level in Bangkok had declined below PCD’s safe standard of 50 micrograms per cubic metre of air.

Only air in Thon Buri district was found to remain at an unsafe PM2.5 measurement of 53 micrograms, with the rest of Bangkok ranging from 41 to 47 micrograms – slightly lower than Thailand’s safe standard, but still considered unhealthy based on the WHO safe standard at 25 micrograms.

PM2.5 level was at problem levels in the cement production centre at Saraburi’s Chaloem Phra Kiat district, as high as 83.55 micrograms.

Many provinces such as Khon Kaen (81.74 micrograms), Tak’s Mae Sot District (76.1 micrograms), and Prachin Buri (75.53 micrograms) were among the top of the list of the provinces with the most serious air pollution as of yesterday.

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