About 1.32 million people in Thailand were affected by air pollution-related diseases between the beginning of the year and March 5th. A specialist in respiratory diseases and tuberculosis is warning that PM2.5 dust can also affect unborn children, if pregnant women are exposed to excessive levels of the fine dust.
According to Public Health Permanent Secretary Dr. Opart Karnkawinpong, the air pollution is mainly caused by PM2.5 dust, smoke from forest fires and the burning of farm waste. He attributed the rise of PM2.5 in the atmosphere this year to increased travel, compared to during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Of the air pollution-related diseases, there were 583,238 cases of respiratory disease, 267,161 cases of skin infections, 242,805 cases of eye infections and 208,880 cases of stroke.
This week alone, there have been 196,311 cases of air pollution-related diseases, said Dr. Opart yesterday (Wednesday).
According to an air pollution report from the Pollution Control Department yesterday, excessive PM2.5, above Thailand’s 50-micron safety level, was detected for three consecutive days in Chiang Mai, Chiang Rai, Phrae, Phayao, Lamphun, Lampang, Mae Hong Son, Uttaradit, Sukhothai, Tak, Phitsanuloke, Nan, Nonthaburi, Phetchabun and 50 districts of Bangkok.
36 other provinces also reported over 50 microns of PM2.5, but not for three consecutive days.
Air pollution is, however, forecast to ease from today until March 14th in Bangkok and its suburbs, due to an easterly wind, but PM2.5 levels in northern provinces are expected to remain high.
Dr. Nitipat Jiarakul, chief of the Respiratory Disease and Tuberculosis Division at Siriraj Hospital, said that babies born to mothers exposed to high levels of PM2.5 may be under-weight, susceptible to illness and at risk of impairments at birth, including heart defects.
Dr. Nitipat cited the medical journal of the American Heart Association, which published a report regarding maternal exposure to air pollution and their babies in 30 provinces in China compiled, between 2014 and 2017. Of 1,434,998 babies born during the period, 7,335 had heart defects. The study shows that the mothers of these babies were exposed to PM2.5 dust, averaging 56.51 microns, during their pregnancy.
The abnormalities in these children include difficulty in breathing while sleeping and feeling sleepy during the day. An interesting aspect of the findings is that more abnormalities were found in breast-fed babies up to six months old.
Dr. Nitipat urged authorities concerned to take short and long term measures to address the PM2.5 problem and its potential impacts on pregnant women.