Study finds Thais in rural north with high toxins

Bangkok (The Nation/ANN) - High levels of a toxin contained in the harmful haze that is currently blanketing nine upper northern provinces in Thailand have been found in the urine of people who live near areas where burning and forestfires are common.

Chiang Mai University's Research Institute for Health and Science studied the health impact of haze in the upper northern provinces on residents during the past three years. It found that atmospheric levels of small particles caused by forest and bush fires in areas outside towns were two to three times higher than those in urban areas, depending on weather conditions.

A senior researcher on pollution and environmental health, Tippawan Prapamonton, said her team of researchers collected urine samples from both adults and children living in urban areas and those outside urban areas in the upper north.

They found that the level of PAH, a widespread pollutant released during the burning of gasoline, oil, charcoal and garbage, was 13 times higher in urine samples collected in nonurban areas than in samples from urban areas.

Meanwhile, the number of children suffering from respiratory disease has increased drastically, Tippawan said.

"We have handed our findings to the Chiang Mai governor for use in resolving the health problems due to haze and pollution," she said.

Chiang Mai authorities plan to install devices to monitor smoke and smallparticle levels in eight provinces in the Upper North in a bid to resolve the haze problem in the long term.

However, atmospheric levels of fineparticle dust, or PM 10, in Chiang Rai province's Mae Sai district were measured at 384 micrograms per cubic metre, which is above safe levels.

About 150 people per day reported suffering from respiratory diseases. About 300,000 masks have been sent to the nine upper North provinces to prevent further health risks.

Lamphun governor Surachai Khanarsa said he would strictly enforce the law and mete out strong punishment to those who illegally burn bush and forestland.

Many tourist groups have cancelled their plans to visit attractions in the North, especially in Mae Sai district, due to the haze situation, affecting local businesses including restaurants and hotels.

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