Expats in Chiang Mai suffering from world’s worst air pollution

Published:  14 Mar at 6 PM
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Local media are reporting the northern Thai city of Chiang Mai is in the grip of the world’s worst air quality.

At the beginning of this week, the already dangerous levels of PM2.5 dust particulates across the north of Thailand increased still further, with the popular expat and tourist destination faring worse than the rest of the region due to its position in a valley almost surrounded by mountains and its permanently heavy traffic. An increased incidence of forest fires and agricultural burning both across the region and in Myanmar are believed to be the major cause of the toxic air.
Visibility is vastly reduced and, yesterday, Chiang Mai’s air quality was officially recognised as the worst anywhere in the world, with flights suspended, Chiang Mai University’s campus shut down and the population urged to stay indoors.

Residents in neighbouring provinces including Mae Hong Son, Lamphun and Lampang are also suffering from bad air, but Chiang Mai’s vastly elevated readings have caused shock and horror amongst residents and local politicians alike. By Wednesday, international air quality monitor Airvisual.com was reporting readings of the city’s AQI at 296, peaking from Tuesday’s high of 229. The regional governor attempted to reassure citizens with a promise that, according to the weather forecast, air quality would improve by the weekend, but social media comments suggesting the official had fled the city took the edge off his assurances.

Chiang Mai is known as a favourite destination for elderly expat retirees mostly hailing from the USA and the UK, with many temporarily relocating to the south of Thailand during the dry season in order to avoid the annual pollution. However, this year’s appalling increase in toxic matter seems to have caught the expat community off guard, with those old enough to remember the deadly London smog in the 1950s saying the air in CM is far worse.

A favourite Thai solution is to sprinkle water on the city’s roads, but the city’s traffic is so heavy with cars, diesel-fuelled construction lorries and long-distance agricultural transports that even a major flood wouldn’t stem the pollution. In previous years, rain-making aircraft have occasionally been seen and heard, but seem to be elsewhere at the present moment. For expats with existing heart or lung conditions, this level of air toxicity could well prove fatal.
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