Smoke from forest fires blankets northern Thailand in thick pollution

Hospital in Chiang Mai at "full ward capacity" due to respiratory issues from air pollution.

Smoke from forest fires blankets northern Thailand in thick pollution

Bangkok, Thailand CNN

As a result of air pollution, people are experiencing respiratory problems in Chiang Mai hospitals.

In Thailand, air pollution is a problem that has existed for a long time. It's usually due to heavy traffic in Bangkok.

This year, however, the pollution levels in the country spiked as a result forest fires and the widespread burning of crops during the annual slash-and-burn farming season from December to April.

According to the Air Quality Index, a Swiss company which tracks air pollution worldwide, Chiang Mai has been the most polluted city in the world for at least seven consecutive days. Chiang Mai, a major tourist and transport hub for Thailand, attracts millions of visitors each year. April is the peak of tourism season.

K Preecha is a cafe owner from Chiang Mai who told CNN the air has become 'increasingly dirty and dangerous to breath' since January. It's now'strong, smelly and noxious'.

He said: 'It is already April, but the situation has worsened - there's been no improvement and many people are sick.' It's frightening to think of breathing air that could kill you.

The Geo-Informatics Space Technology Development Agency, Thailand's space agency released satellite images in late March that showed 5,572 hot spots of fire - the highest number in five years.

A Thai government announcement issued on 28th March stated that air pollution affected 1.7 million people in the country. This included people with respiratory diseases, skin irritations, and eye infections.

Many thousands seek medical assistance

According to a Chiang Mai University statement, between January and the end of March, more than 12 000 patients in Chiang Mai sought medical attention for respiratory problems.

The hospital is struggling to deal with the large number of patients seeking treatment for illnesses such as asthma, upper respiratory infection, conjunctivitis, and emphysema. This lung disease causes shortness in breath.

Last week, fire raged through Nakhorn Nayok, central Thailand. It engulfed two mountains, and spread to Khao Nang Dam forest park. Helicopters were dispatched to extinguish the fires. They were finally put out on Sunday.

Maharaj Nakorn Hospital released a statement that said: 'The smoke crises have occurred in all areas of the north. Especially in Chiang Mai, where air pollution levels (PM 2.5) are constantly increasing, and this has impacted people's health.

Fine particulate material, or PM2.5, is composed of microscopic, smaller-than-2.5 micrometers-diameter particles. These particles, which contain pollutants like sulfate and nitrates, as well as black carbon, can penetrate deep into the lungs as well as the cardiovascular system. The exposure to these particles is linked to heart and lung disorders, and can also impair cognitive functions and the immune system.

Maharaj Nakorn Hospital added that 'there are some patients who cannot be admitted to medical treatment due to the continued full capacity of patient's wards'.

Pannawich Chantaklang is a doctor from Nakornping Hospital, Chiang Mai. He told CNN the number of patients with diseases caused by air pollution was 'high', but that it was normal at this time of year.

He said, 'We are not overwhelmed. We can still accept more patients, but the number receiving treatment for air pollution is higher.

According to the statistics that we have collected over the past three years, we expect the number to gradually decrease as we near the end of April. (But) we will continue monitoring the situation with vigilance.

Air pollution has been linked to harmful effects, which have been documented by medical experts and health organizations.

According to the WHO, air pollution is a public health concern that can lead to premature death.

In 2022, scientists at the Francis Crick Institute of London conducted a study that found air pollution to be a greater risk than smoking for life expectancy.