"During the last PM2.5 season, my eyes were so irritated that I had to go to the hospital. The doctor used a sharp-edged tool and got something out of my eyes. He showed me what he just got rid of but I couldn’t see because it was so small. The doctor said it was a particle matter."
Tharathorn Intaratep told us about his story during his break time. As a motorcycle taxi driver, he spends between 14-16 hours on the road every day transporting people and delivering food via different mobile applications. He has been working as a driver for many years since it gives him the freedom he longs for.
"After that day, I had to wear an eye patch and couldn’t work for a couple of days. I still had to see a doctor every once in a while. They suggested I wear a mask and a helmet with an eye shield. However, I couldn’t always wear that since it won’t let me see clearly at night."
PM2.5 refers to particles that are thinner than a human hair (2.5 micrometers), and therefore cannot be detected by our respiratory system. It can travel directly into capillaries in the lungs. Short-term health effects include coughing, shortness of breath, and skin irritation.
The longer we breathe air that contains PM2.5 that exceeds the limit considered safe, the higher chance we would develop serious diseases as the bodies receive deadly substances through PM2.5 such as heavy metals, carcinogens, and allergens. This is similar to what smoking does.
During his time of sickness, the PM2.5 level in and around his neighborhood has exceeded the limit for 35 days.
24-hour mean of PM2.5 is higher than 90 μg/m³
Affect the health
24-hour mean of PM2.5 is 51-90 μg/m³
Normal to good
24-hour mean of PM2.5 is below 51 μg/m³
Data Source: Pollution Control Department
The 24-hour mean of PM2.5 at Bang Khun Thian Air Quality Monitoring Station from November 2019 - February 2020. The worst air quality day was as much as 96 μg/m³, 2 times higher than the standard in Thailand and 4 times higher than the WHO standard.
The World Health Organization revealed that every year 7,000,000 die from air pollution.
PM2.5 issues happen naturally, so does that mean we can't do anything about it?
PM2.5 problems are caused by both natural and human factors.
Sources of PM2.5
Weather and geography of the area
These 2 factors result in each region facing the issue during different time of the year.
Central: November - May
North & Northeast: January - May
South: July - September
Once the season of PM2.5 arrives, what action does our government do?
In 2018, the Cabinet of Thailand leveraged the PM2.5 issue as a part of the National Agenda that must be solved immediately.
But we are still facing the PM2.5 issue.
Data Source: Suan Dusit Poll 2020
6 out of 10 citizens in Thailand think that PM2.5 is an urgent issue and are not happy with the way the government is handling it.
The solutions today might not be good enough.
Experts have agreed on one thing; the solutions still lack 4 elements.
This year, the PM2.5 Committee scheduled a meeting with 54 government agencies.
There are no tracking records of the works of 1,000 funded Northern Wildfire Networks whereas the local communities living close to the forest have to raise money to buy equipment to stop the wildfires.
The province of Mae Hong Son is full of PM2.5! Yet, only 1 district in the province gets an air quality checking!
The National Plan to solve PM2.5 issues of 2021 was proposed to the Cabinet of Thailand only 1 month away from the PM2.5 season!
PM2.5 is being handled like it is a temporary catastrophe.
Bunnaroth Buaklee, Chiang Mai Breathe Council
First of all, you have to be clear what problems you’re dealing with. If you take PM2.5 issue as if it’s a catastrophe, then you’ll only care about it temporarily. In fact, this issue is actually like a sleeping giant. It’s related directly with the infrastructure of manufacturing sector and social behaviors, which would not be developed sustainably. We need changes all year round. This the kind of problem you can’t just complete short-term solutions in a few months.
Or should we have something specifically to solve PM2.5 issues?
Thai people are working together to drive a Clean Air Act.
Recognize the right to breathe clean air as an official right of Thai citizens
Be used as a new working tool for the government agencies to work on air quality as well as forming the new ones that focus only on the air quality control
Recognize the citizens right to access information about the air quality and enhance Thai air quality to meet the international standards
Create a fund for air quality maintenance by increasing penalty fees thus driving motivation in order to encourage all sectors to contribute to better air quality
1.Drafted Holistic Governance of Clean Air for Health Act by Thailand Clean Air Network (Unofficial Name)
2.Drafted Management for Clean Air Act by Thai Chamber of Commerce and Network (Unofficial Name)
The act is on its way to the House of Representatives of Thailand for consideration to become official.
Imagine the day that the Clean Air Act is officially present… what would happen?
The act will exist alongside other environmental ones and fulfill your right to breathe clean air. It will also give citizens more channels to call for justice.
As an example, Tharathorn, a motorcycle taxi driver, becomes sick seemingly due to the air pollution.
He can request support for his right to breathe clean air (Section 15).
He can ask a private organization who works to help vulnerable subjects to conduct a lawsuit and claim damages in the form of compensation.
Tharathorn can also be a representative for other motorcycle taxi drivers so that they could receive the same compensation through class action lawsuits.
Once the lawsuit is complete, the following government agencies or private organizations would then have to terminate all activities that cause PM2.5 (Section 16).
Note: For transboundary pollution cases, it is not the plaintiff who has to prove the cause of his or her sickness, instead it is the defendant who would have to provide evidences to protect themselves.
Citizens are driving this Clean Air Act forward. Do Thai officers agree with this?
I believe that there’s a good intention behind this law. The Department of Industrial Works’ job is to monitor and track sources of pollution with the use of existing legalized tools. Industrial sectors are well aware of the issue and are working closely to solve the problem together.
Supakit Boonsiri, Deputy Director General of Department of Industrial Works
Athapol Charoenshunsa, Director General of Pollution Control Department
I completely agree with the concept. But we all believe that one law should cover many issues. We’re driving the Promotion and Conservation of National Environmental Quality Act in order to fix all pollution-related problems, such as contaminated water, garbage, and air pollution. We’re going to include the content of Clean Air Act in this because all pollution-related issues deserve to be treated the same way.
This act is one of many tools but one thing that Thai people have always had is the right to breathe clean air which is a fundamental right that exists from the first day they are born.
Although today’s Thai laws still don’t officially recognize the right to breathe clean air, this right is already included as one of the fundamental rights recognized by the Constitution of Thailand and other countries. There is no excuse for the government to ignore the issue of PM2.5. Nevertheless, what we want to see most is how Thai people come to understand and become aware of their own rights to breath clean air.
Law Drafting Team, Thailand Clean Air Network
Amid a hazy sky, the right to breathe clean air still exists. Have you found yours?
monitor and keep updated with the government's clean air mission.
Which policy is right for you?
Where do you like to spend your time?
Thailand's National Agenda Scheme for Clean Air 2021 - 2027
Data Source: National Agenda Scheme to solve PM2.5 issues from 2019-2024 , Special Urgent Scheme to solve PM2.5 issues, The National Environmental Board Meeting, 20 July 2020
More stuff to read
Find out more about the Clean Air Act and how to sign the petition
By Nicha Wachpanich, Sapanya Srisook and Withee Poositasai
Translated by Natcha Wachpanich
This story was produced as part of the Stockholm Environment Institute (Asia) media grant for environmental reporting. It does not necessarily reflect the views of SEI or its funders.
Special thanks: Athapol Charoenshunsa, Chiang Mai Breathe Council, GISTDA, Krit Buaphuan, Nuchanart Tantong, Paisit Panichakul, PM2.5 Committee of House of Representatives of Thailand, Supakit Boonsiri, Thailand Clean Air Network, Tharathorn Intaratep and Grab Santanakan Family