Bangkok Air Pollution Causes and Solutions
I want to share some research on the air pollution crises in Bangkok. I started with a number of question such as what causes the high levels of PM2.5 ? And why are elevated levels dangerous? As I continued researching, I discovered a vast amount of scientific literature as well as government agency briefings and papers. What I found should read as tentative and as basic research.
There is too much detail in the studies to summaries easily in a short summary. The goal is provide a minimal level of understanding the central issues and end with some possible solutions.
What follows is a general briefing.
Close to my home in Vancouver, is The British Columbia EPA, which has looked at and addressed many of the air pollution issues. https://www.epa.vic.gov.au/your-environment/air/air-pollution/pm25-particles-in-air
What is a PM2.5 particle?
It’s small. This is 2.5 microns. It measures about 1/30th of the width of a human hair.
“Particle pollution is a mixture of solid particles and liquid droplets. EPA Victoria monitors the air for two categories of particle size: PM2.5 and PM10. These particles are very small and are measured in micrometres (µm).” This suggests that spraying water may actually increase the risk associated with these fine particles.
Where are the sources of PM2.5 particles?
“PM2.5 particles result from the burning of fossil fuels (such as coal), organic matter (including wood and grass) and most other materials, such as rubber and plastic. Motor vehicles, power plant emissions and bushfires are all major sources of fine particles.”
Also from British Columbia, the British Columbia Lung Association observed the major sources of PM2.5 :
Smoke from biomass burning.
Exhaust from cars, heavy trucks, and off-road vehicles.
Emissions from Industries and coal-fired power plants
Emissions from agriculture and livestock.
What is the standard for PM2.5 ?
Air quality data collected by EPA is measured against the national air quality standards, known as the Ambient Air Quality NEPM. These standards are incorporated into the State Environment Protection Policy (Ambient Air Quality). Currently, the reporting standards for PM2.5 particles are:
Also the British Columbia Lung Association following the 1,300 forest fires in 2017 that struck the province caused the provincial government to declare a state of emergency for ten weeks.
PM2.5 can come in a range of shapes, including spheres, cubes, and chained structures composed of elemental and organic carbon, sulphates, nitrates, ammonia, minerals, and trace metals. The size, shape, and composition reflect the source materials and the conditions under which the particles were formed and transformed in the atmosphere.
Global Scope of the problem:
In Briefing: The health effects of air pollution: time to Act: https://www.policyconnect.org.uk/sites/site_pc/files/report/1071/fieldreportdownload/aphgairpollutionandhealthfinal.pdf
“In the UK it is estimated that 40,000 - 50,000 premature deaths each year are linked to air pollution, while the EU estimates that air pollution is responsible for more than 500,000 premature deaths across Europe annually. Worldwide, the number of premature deaths due to outdoor air pollution is estimated to be three million by the World Health Organization. “
From a Chinese study titled The Health Impact of Air Pollution, Mark Li and Leo Mallat, July 2018 can be found here: https://www.scor.com/sites/default/files/sp42-air_pollution.pdf
Noted a 5% increase over a five-year period for Southeast Asia in terms of PM2.5 and PM10. https://www.scor.com/sites/default/files/sp42-air_pollution.pdf When you look at the projection for concentrations of these particles they show a steep incline in 2030 and 2060.
Bangkok air pollution is considered in the Chinese Study: “Over the last decade, daily measures of ambient PM10 have been collected in Bangkok. The analysis indicates a statistically significant association between PM10 concentration and all of the alternative measures of mortality. The results suggest a 10g.m. increase in daily PM10 is associated with a 1 to 2% increase in natural mortality, a 1 to 2% increase in mortality associated with cardiovascular affections, and 3 to 6% increase in respiratory mortality.”
The Li and Mallat study noted that the London heavy smog in November and December 1952 killed 4,000 people directly and normal mortality rates didn’t return for several months. Overall the event was responsible for 12,000 deaths.
Also health related to small children, the study observed: “Ambient air pollution was responsible for 27.5% of deaths due to lower respiratory tract infections.”
It gets worse. “Particulate matter has also been associated with the short-term risk of mortality from ischaemic heart disease, haemorrhagic stroke and ischaemic stroke. A cohort study in China concluded that an increase of PM2.5 led to a 9.7% increase in mortality from ischaemic heart disease, a 4.4% increase in the risk of mortality from haemorrhagic stroke, and a 13.5% increase in the risk of mortality from ischaemic stroke.”
“The strongest correlations were seen on the day of exposure with more persistent effects for PM2.5 .”
“Globally, 29.2% of the burden of stroke was attributed to air pollution.”
The exposure to PM10 or PM2.5 is associated with increased risk of low birth weight. The studies indicate an association between PM pollution and post-neonatal infant mortality for respiratory causes and sudden infant death syndrome.
In adults, PM is associated with increased risk of dementia, DNA damage, epigenetic alterations, and oxidative stress, and reduction of telomere length. The physiological damage ranges from increased heart rate and blood pressure, increase in cholesterol, and others disruptions of the metabolic endocrine function.
The World Bank reported “premature deaths due to air pollution in 2013 cost the global economy about $225 billion in lost labour income, or about $5.11 trillion in welfare losses worldwide.”
The U.K. Briefing paper produces similar evidence of health issues:
“The evidence for a link between air pollution and cardiovascular and respiratory disease is now well established and strong, in particular for sulphur dioxide (SO2), nitrogen dioxide (NO2) and particulate matter.”
From Scientific Reports volume 7, Article number: 46456 (2017)
What follows below is taken from the Chinese Scientific Reports where they compared data collected from Beijing, Shanghai and Guangzhou. Wind speed and weather conditions are a vital element in air quality and the other important factor is transportation. An important takeaway is this is a dynamic process with distribution and duration fluctuations.
Some of the findings in the Chinese Scientific Reports:
“PM2.5 pollution processes causes, especially in large Chinese cities, are not clearly understood. Ground observations and modeling studies have been used to analyze specific PM2.5 5 pollution episodes. In these studies, PM2.5 concentration, composition, and sources, along with associated meteorological conditions, are often checked to find the causes of heavy pollution episodes7,8,9. For example, the heavy haze pollution episodes occurring in January 2013 in North China were investigated in dozens of studies using diverse techniques. Ji et al. (2014) described two particulate pollution episodes in Beijing (BJ), with explosive PM2.5 5concentration growth in one case and persistent growth in the other5. They concluded that the explosive episode was mainly caused by local emissions under stagnant weather conditions, while the persistent episode was largely due to normal regional transport. Other studies in BJ concluded that local emissions coupled with unfavorable meteorological factors were the main causes for prolonged PM2.5 5pollution processes10”
“PM2.5 pollution processes causes, especially in large Chinese cities, are not clearly understood. Ground observations and modeling studies have been used to analyze specific PM2.5 pollution episodes. In these studies, PM2.5 concentration, composition, and sources, along with associated meteorological conditions, are often checked to find the causes of heavy pollution episodes
“Other studies in BJ concluded that local emissions coupled with unfavorable meteorological factors were the main causes for prolonged PM2.5 pollution processes10
What are ten solutions to tackle the air pollution problem?
1) Expand data collection. Collect data from private home sensors with local government sensors to compile a large data base to have a better understanding of the problem;
2) Establish regulatory limits for different pollutants and to enforce them;
3) Establish pollution targets (this is done in the EU);
4) Establish a countrywide health data basis to determine the health problems;
5) Establish a national air pollution monitoring strategy for ASEAN and fund the project from the member states;
6) Allow the importation of air purifiers and other devices without the high import taxes (that have allowed local vendors to hike prices and profit from the misery of others);
7) Provide information programs in schools and for pregnant women about the problem;
8) Phase out diesel fuel;
9) Expand monitoring for Sulphur dioxide, nitrogen oxides, carbon monoxide, Ozone, Benzene, Lead, Arsenic, Cadmium, Nickel, Polycyclic Aromatic Hydrocarbons. As these elements are part of the problem along with PM2.5 and PM10;
10)Recruit professionals, who have put teams together, managed them, and have experience in benchmarking, process management, the ability set up a simulation tracking the process as they alter the variables and match solutions. I’m sure the Canadian Embassy would be helpful in arranging the experts who deal with the air pollution emergency in Vancouver.