There’s no denying the world is facing an air pollution crisis

Bangkok’s deadly smog has caused concern among experts over what the future of Australia’s air quality holds (Image Source: Bangkok Post)

By Malvika Hemanth

On the 30th of September, Bangkok experienced some of the worst air quality in history.

Thailand’s capital had an air quality reading of 233, which launched it into the list of top five most polluted cities in the world.

The “very unhealthy” reading was attributed to an excess of PM 2.5 particles in the air.

“PM 2.5 particles are the product and combustion of fossil fuels particularly petroleum and coal fired power stations,” Dr McLeay, a board member of the Doctors for the Environment of Australia (DEA), said.

“They’re the size of a human hair, and can penetrate deep into the lungs and into the blood stream causing significant health impacts.”

Thailand’s Pollution Control Department Director Pralong Damrongchai said the excess of PM 2.5 particles was caused by winds and high humidity during changing seasons.

The air pollution level had increased due to a high-pressure cell which reduced winds coming into Bangkok and neighbouring provinces.

However, the department denied that the poor air quality and visible smog was caused by smoke from the forest fires burning in Indonesia.

As a result of the smog, Thailand’s Ministry of Education was forced to order schools in Bangkok to close for several days, while Thailand’s Pollution Control Department advised residents to wear face masks and limit their outdoor exposure.

The Pollution Control Department deployed water cannons and hosed down streets as a solution to improve Bangkok’s air quality, but these strategies were ineffective.

“The only effective strategy is to reduce vehicle use and to improve the filtration systems on cars, so we burn less fossil fuels,” Dr McLeay said.

“We need improved public transport so we can get as many cars off the street as possible.”

According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), 9 out of 10 people breathe polluted air resulting in roughly seven million deaths per year.

However, Director-General of WHO Dr Ghebreyesus said it is the “poorest and most marginalised people who bear the brunt of the burden”.

Air pollution is mainly centralised in low and middle income earning countries in Asia and Africa.

In Australia, air pollution currently causes over 3000 premature and preventable deaths per year.

This has caused the DEA, in conjunction with other interested parties, to put forward a submission regarding air pollution standards to the National Environment Protection Measure (NEPM).

Stakeholders for this submission include the Climate and Health Alliance, Lung Foundation Australia, Lung Health Research Centre, Royal Australasian College of Physicians and the Thoracic Society.

The NEPM will be adjusted by state and federal environmental ministers for the first time in 21 years.

The DEA’s submission focuses on setting higher national air pollution standards for pollutants, including nitrogen dioxide, sulphur dioxide and ozone which are contributing to increased rates of asthma, heart disease, and lung disease.

“[Australia] has the worst pure air quality standards in the OECD and some of the worst vehicle emissions standards in the world for obnoxious emissions,” Dr McLeay said.

“It’s unnecessary and not acceptable, so we’re looking for tighter standards.”

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