Wildfires in Laos and neighbouring countries are causing dangerous levels of air pollution in many regions of Laos, especially in the capital.
Director General of the Pollution Control Department under the Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment, Mrs Sisouphanh Luanglath, told Vientiane Times on Thursday that particulate matter (PM) 2.5 pollution could be expected in many parts of the country and that pollution in Vientiane exceeded the safety level.
PM2.5 refers to atmospheric particulate matter with a diameter of less than 2.5 micrometres, which is about 3 percent of the diameter of a human hair. It can lodge in the lungs and enter blood vessels, leading to respiratory and cardiovascular disease.
“According to air-quality monitoring station readings on Thursday, the level of air pollution was 140 micrograms per cubic metre of air over 24 hours, exceeding the safety level of 50 micrograms per cubic metre over 24 hours,” she said.
“The pollution measure decreased from 172 micrograms on Wednesday to 140 micrograms today, but the concentration of particulate matter is still at a dangerous level. However, the haze is reducing and we expect the situation to improve within the next two or three days,” she added.
“The haze is partly caused by a forest fire that started a few days ago in Sangthong district, while pollution is also coming from fires burning in neighbouring countries. People should wear face masks to protect themselves from respiratory problems,” Mrs Sisouphanh said.
The haze has been attributed to fires burning in Thailand and Myanmar.
The Pollution Control Department is gathering data from the provinces to ascertain pollution levels in other parts of the country.
In Thailand, fine dust reached hazardous levels in many northern and northeastern provinces in the 24 hours up to 9am on Thursday, with PM2.5 readings at 64-199 micrograms per cubic metre of air – and the worst pollution in Chiang Rai and Chiang Mai, according to the Bangkok Post.
In Laos, the Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment has been keeping a close eye on air quality after high pollution levels in the region. The ministry stationed equipment to monitor the quality of air in Vientiane to test whether the proportion of particulates in the air was below the set national standard. The ministry’s decision to test air quality in Vientiane came after some Asian cities experienced rising levels of particulates.
The ministry has been monitoring air quality for the last three years and has carried out tests around the country. The quality of air in Laos compared to some cities in Asia is generally good, according to officials in charge, who attribute this to the fact that Laos has fewer vehicles and far less heavy industry compared to other Asian cities.
The government has assigned the Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment to monitor airborne particulates and identify measures to keep the air clean.