AIR POLLUTION has forced the suspension of classes at private schools across Bangkok this week, though the Pollution Control Department (PCD) yesterday reported fewer areas with unsafe levels of PM2.5 – airborne particulates 2.5 microns in diameter and smaller.
Kindergarten to secondary students at Roong Aroon School in Bang Khun Thien are on unscheduled holiday through Friday after the PM2.5 level topped 90 micrograms per cubic metre of air in the district on Tuesday. The safety limit is 50.
Administrators at Lertlah School Petkasem in Nong Khaem district took the same measure and are reportedly considering postponing exams unless the situation improves.
In Thawi Watthana district, Plearnpattana School is keeping kindergarten pupils at home through Friday. Nearby Baanploypoom Kindergarten on Tuesday told parents to use their discretion about what their kids should do, especially if they have health issues. Families unable to arrange babysitting on short notice could send their kids to the school, but all outdoor activities are cancelled.
The Education Ministry has issued no directives about temporary school closures, leaving it to the discretion of administrators.
On January 14 it instructed directors of schools in unsafe areas to bring their daily flag-raising ceremonies indoors and to make other adjustments with student safety in mind.
“If the PM2.5 amount is high in their areas, schools may suspend classes and activities,” Public Health Minister Piyasakol Sakolsatayadorn said yesterday.
Dr Piyasakol insisted, however, that his ministry had no plan to order blanket closures, temporary or otherwise.
“The dust amount fluctuates all the time. Forecasts are not accurate either because wind is a factor,” he said.
Health Department director-general Panpimol Wipulakorn said PM2.5 did not normally cause acute symptoms, so schools will have to make discretionary decisions in consultation with parents. “When the PM2.5 level tops 90 micrograms for consecutive days, schools can close. When the amount is not too high, they should consider limiting outdoor activities,” she suggested.
The PCD yesterday reported the PM2.5 level at an unsafe 51-69 micrograms per cubic metre in 14 areas of Greater Bangkok, down from 40 areas on Tuesday, when nearly 10 districts were above 90 micrograms, earning “code-red” status.
It said the situation improved yesterday in most of the code-red areas, including at the Tanon Tok intersection in Bang Kho Laem district, which hit 101 micrograms on Tuesday and was down to 69 yesterday. Phetkasem Road in Phasi Charoen district was at 100 micrograms on Tuesday and 50 yesterday. Rama 2 Road in Bang Khun Thien went from 96 to 56.
Citing a Meteorological Department weather forecast, the PCD said strong winds should dissipate much of the pollution on today.
It reiterated that it was working with other agencies to get polluting vehicles off the road, clean the streets, spray water into the air in trouble spots, stop outdoor burning and create artificial rain.
Piyasakol explained that the Chulalongkorn University Demonstration Elementary School had closed temporarily not because of PM2.5 but an influenza outbreak. “We have closed temporarily mainly because the number of influenza-stricken students keeps rising,” said the school’s director, Thinakorn Bourpul.
He said the dust particles were a factor in the contagion, since the pollution kept students in their air-conditioned classrooms all day, increasing the risk of the flu spreading.