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Thailand Pollution Control Department
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|3||Hang Chat, Lampang|
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|8||Warin Chamrap, Changwat Ubon Ratchathani|
|9||Mae Mo, Lampang|
|10||Phan, Chiang Rai|
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|1||Municipal Health Center|
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|Air pollution level||Air quality index||Main pollutant|
|Moderate|| 59 US AQI||PM2.5|
PM2.5 concentration in Phuket is currently 3.2 times the WHO annual air quality guideline value
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| Sensitive groups should reduce outdoor exercise|
|Friday, Feb 10|
Moderate 56 US AQI
|Saturday, Feb 11|
Moderate 57 US AQI
|Sunday, Feb 12|
Moderate 60 US AQI
Moderate 59 US AQI
|Tuesday, Feb 14|
Good 34 US AQI
|Wednesday, Feb 15|
Good 29 US AQI
|Thursday, Feb 16|
Good 34 US AQI
|Friday, Feb 17|
Good 31 US AQI
|Saturday, Feb 18|
Good 34 US AQI
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Phuket is a small city located on the coast in the southern region of Thailand, the capital of Phuket province. It has an area size of 12km2 as a city municipality, whilst the metropolitan size is 224km2. The island as a whole has an area of 576km2, making it slightly smaller than Singapore in total land mass.
In terms of the air pollution, Phuket has some of the best air quality in Thailand, for a number of reasons, with its geographical location playing a large role in keeping the quality of its air clean. This is a pertinent topic when it comes to considering the air quality of any given city around the world. Landlocked cities tend to have more problems with pollution whereas coastal or island-based cities tend to fare better due to strong coastal winds (as well as less industrial based economy, although there are exceptions to this). Elevation or how far above sea level a city is can also effect the buildup of pollution and smoke, with higher elevated cities often doing better than their sea level or lower counterparts. Many of the surrounding islands or sections of Phuket have a fairly high elevation, and as such would affect how clean the quality of the air is.
In regards to the pollution that Phuket sees, going off the numbers of PM2.5 recorded in 2019, Phuket came in with a yearly average of 11.4 µg/m³. This places it within the ‘good’ air quality bracket, the only city in Thailand to achieve this as a yearly average over 2019. To be classed as having good air quality (not just a descriptive but an actual category used to determine air quality based on numbers) requires a PM2.5 reading of 10 to 12 µg/m³, a very fine margin of a rating to achieve. This puts it at just 1.4 µg/m³ over the World Health Organization’s (WHO) target goal on 0 to 10 µg/m³ in terms of how clean the air quality should be.
Many cities in Thailand, even the more polluted ones, usually have several months out of their year where they fall into the WHO’s target bracket, although this is usually fairly short lived and lasts on average three to four months out of the year (usually around May until August, although there are exceptions outside of these listed months when the air quality remains very clean). Back to Phuket, its aforementioned PM2.5 rating of 11.4 µg/m³ put it in 68th place, out of all 68 cities ranked.
It had three months out of the year that fell into the WHO’s target goal (May, August and October) and another three months out of the year that fell into the good rating bracket (April, June and July). The rest of the year hit the moderate bracket, which requires a PM2.5 rating of anywhere between 12.1 to 35.4 µg/m³ to be classed as such. This goes to show that whilst Phuket has a very good quality of air when compared to the rest of the country, it still stands to reason that there will be many sources of smoke and pollution that are causing the PM2.5 levels to rise in a city that could or should potentially see a year round WHO target rating if it were to address these issues.
There are many causes of air pollution in Phuket, with the previously mentioned PM2.5 not just being used as a rating system but being a pollutant in its own right. PM2.5 refers to particulate matter that is 2.5 micrometers or less in diameter. Particles of this size are extremely miniscule and as such have the potential to cause very serious health issues in those who are exposed to them over long periods of time. PM2.5 is not comprised of any one chemical but can consist of many different ones, sometimes in combination with each other.
Chemicals that make up the majority of PM2.5’s composition include ones such as nitrogen dioxide (NO2) as well as sulfur dioxide (SO2). There are also larger forms of this fine particulate matter, such as PM10 (10 micrometers or less in diameter) that are made up of a mixture of organic and inorganic particle compounds, comprised of matter such as pollen and dust, metals, as well as smoke and liquid vapors.
These would be the main pollutants found in the air in Phuket, along with but not limited to a few other materials such as black carbon and volatile organic compounds (VOC’s), both formed from the combustion, or rather the incomplete and inefficient combustion of organic material (such as dead crops or forest areas) as well as the exhaust fumes of vehicles or machines that run on fossil fuels such as coal or diesel. Black carbon is one of the chief components of soot and has a number of effects on health as well as the environment, and can be found coating areas that see high volumes of traffic, built up in the form of thick soot clinging to underpasses or roadsides that have many cars passing by them.
As for the sources of the pollution in Phuket, they would have several instigating causes. These would include cars, trucks and bikes (the automobile industry), as well as the burning of materials such as organic refuse, crops, coal fires and natural gas for cooking usually found in rural areas, which although harmless on a small scale can add to the levels of pollution in the air when done in excess.
There is also the industrial side of the city that contributes to the smoke and haze that afflicts Phuket during certain times. These ‘heavy’ industries can contribute to the production of carbon monoxide (CO) and other various forms of carbon compounds. There are a surprising number of factories to be found around the city of Phuket as well as the rest of Phuket province, with ones such as smelting and refinery plants, food production factories and also branded clothing manufacturers. These all release a myriad of air pollutants as well as water polluting runoff, which can in turn enter the atmosphere through the water cycle, as well as destroying areas of natural wildlife, compounding the air quality issue (a reduction in trees and areas of thick foliage is a reduction in the natural defense against the accumulation of air pollution).
Whilst it should be stated in regards the numerous health issues that could arise as a result of breathing polluted air, it is important to note that these effects are significantly diminished by living in a city such as Phuket, which sees much improved air quality, as opposed to those living in Bangkok which had a 2019 PM2.5 reading of 22.8 µg/m³.
To go a step further and look at the number one most polluted city in Thailand, Nakhon Ratchasima, also known as Korat, which came in with a reading of 42.2 µg/m³, putting it in the ‘unhealthy for sensitive groups’ bracket as well as being the number one most polluted city in Thailand as of 2019.
In Phuket, there are times when the air quality has dropped and come in with readings as high as 17.6 µg/m³ in the month March 2019, putting it into the moderate bracket. There have also been many recorded instances of haze over the city, and it is during times like this when the health effects that are about to be mentioned are of more concern. PM2.5 and PM10 have the ability to enter into the lungs and cause infections as well as other more long-term condition such as bronchitis and emphysema. These can be particularly noticeable amongst the young and elderly, with children being particularly vulnerable to the breathing of haze, smoke and other polluted air sources.
Amongst the effects for those who are still growing can include developmental issues, both physical and mental. Damage to organs such as the kidney and liver are not unheard of, as well as the reproductive system. Children exposed whilst In Utero (in the womb) have higher risks of being born with birth defects, and suffering from stunted growth and reduced lung function over the course of their life.
Other risks include increased rates of cancer, particularly of the lungs as one would imagine. Due to the incredibly small size of PM2.5, it is able to puncture deep into the lung tissue and accumulate there, or going even further, entering the blood stream because of its microscopic size. Once it is in the blood stream it can cause damage to blood vessels, as well as travelling to the heart and causing cardiovascular conditions such as risks of heart disease and well as an increase in cardiac events such as heart attacks.
This shows the PM2.5 has further reaching negative consequences beyond the pulmonary (lung) system. PM10, with its larger sized particles, can also cause damage and aggravation of preexisting conditions such as asthma and chronic bronchitis. Larger particles such as the previously mentioned PM10 and other materials such as black carbon, volatile organic compounds and even the fumes from burnt plastic (which can enter the atmosphere via factories that use plastic in the production, such as recycling or packaging) as well as the burning of refuse that happens to contain plastics can all be inhaled and cause instant problems such as irritation to the respiratory tract, the eyes, nose, mouth as well as skin. The chemicals such as dioxins and furans released from the burning of plastic are highly carcinogenic and can cause impotence in cases of over exposure or chronic exposure over a long period of time.
These are a number of the health effects that could occur when breathing polluted air. But as previously mentioned, Phuket has the cleanest air in Thailand and as such the effects of such events occurring are significantly lowered. However, during the worst months and particularly during bad spells of haze, preventative measures can be taken in order to minimize the amount of exposure. PM2.5 filtering masks, in particular higher-quality ones as available on site can be worn to reduce the fine particulate matter from entering the lungs, as well as staying up to date on pollution levels through the regular checking of air quality maps, also available on the IQAir website as well as the AirVisual app.
The city of Phuket as well as the whole province is one that receives many tourists year-round, both domestic and international, although this will have been significantly stifled over 2020 due to the COVID-19 outbreak, putting a complete halt to touristic activities and mass movement of people. Of note is that Phuket and its citizens are already taking more responsibility in regards to the plastic waste that is building up around the city and island, with many hotels being culprits in the large production and distribution of single use plastics. Whilst solid waste pollution does not directly affect the atmosphere, there are occasions when it is sometimes buried, or in worst cases burnt. Burning releases the fumes and smoke directly into the atmosphere with many negative impacts on the quality of the air. This has been significantly cut down on in recent times, with pressure from governing bodies as well as international environmental groups attempting to enforce the ending of these practices, as well as the education of people who take part in it (with education being a big factor in preventing further air pollution).
Other incentives and pollution reducing efforts include the stemming of fossil fuel use, particularly in vehicles. With the large number of boats, motorbikes and cars inhabiting Phuket city and the surrounding island, levels of nitrogen dioxide and sulfur dioxide would be greatly elevated over what their readings should be. With enforcement in the reduction in their use, levels of pollution could greatly drop over the following years.
As touched on briefly, the months in which Phuket sees its worst pollution are March, September, October and November. These all came in over 2019 with moderate air pollution ratings, a rating that an island with a large amount of natural beauty (which happens to double as a natural barrier against air pollution e.g. a high volume of trees and coastal winds are very efficient at reducing pollution level build-up) should not really be seeing.
March is when the readings were at its absolute worst, with the previously stated 17.6 µg/m³ number recorded in regards to the PM2.5 levels in the air. Whilst there is data missing from the first few months of 2019, it stands to reason that Phuket has similar pollution trends to the rest of Thailand, and as such, the very end of the year (November and December) as well as the first few months (January through to March) are usually times when pollution in Phuket will be at its highest.
Data sources 1