Burning Season in Chiang Mai. How to Stay Safe?

Cough Smoke season

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Burning Season causing significant health issues for Chiang Mai residents.

All Chiang Mai residents are aware of “burning season” because of its sickening pollution levels when farmers burn fields and forests. Smog covers the city, people start coughing and prefer to stay indoors. Sensitive groups, such as people with airway allergies and asthma, see a doctor and sometimes check into a hospital for proper treatment.

Long-term effects of the pollution include heart disease, lung cancer, and brain damage. Besides making local people sick, pollution also affects tourism and the ex-pat community. As a result, many of the foreigners in Chiang Mai choose to leave the city this time of year; they escape to places in the south of Thailand that still have clean air or visit other parts of the world.

Burning season - burning field
Burning Season: Burning crops is a regular yearly event in and around Chiang Mai, causing significant health issues for residents.

The government regulates where and when farmers can burn. In addition, non-profit groups and volunteers try “to stop people from burning,” but with little effect. Burning agricultural waste and clearing the forest are profitable and long-standing traditions.

How to Protect Yourself from the Hazardous Smoke

  • Wear an N95 facemask when outside.
  • Install a HEPA filter in your car.
  • Close doors and windows and run air purifiers indoors.
  • Use an air quality meter to verify the cleanliness of the air, both indoors and outdoors.

AQI – The Truth About the Smoke in Chiang Mai

When the smoke comes each hot season, many people in Chiang Mai turn on their air purifiers indoors. For a few years, some brands have sold air purifiers with a built-in meter: the screen shows the number that tells you the air quality in the room.

The color of the number may be green and ‘low,’ but the air can still damage your health. When you care about the purity of the air, be sure that you agree with the way your cleaner or any other meter measures that quality. Not all methods are equal.

Accurate Air Quality Data

Even if your air purifier uses an outdated method for calculating the air quality, it’s can still valid in one situation: when the number is low, such as zero, five, or ten. Then the air is clean and healthy according to any system of measurement.

However, the best way to be sure is using the internationally approved standard of air quality: the Air Quality Index, AQI in short. This method is sincere: anything below 50 is healthy and shows on display in green. Therefore, you can trust the air quality and safely leave the house without getting your lungs filled with poisonous smoke. 

Any number between 50 and 100 is yellow, meaning that the air quality is worse and is likely to affect ‘healthy people’. That air quality resembles sitting around a fireplace or cooking in the kitchen with a ventilation system. These situations occur every day and, for most people, only temporary. However, this level of air quality may cause health problems if you are in it all day and many days in a row. 

During late February, March, and April, the pollution can often reach AQI levels over 150. The number shows on the screen in red or purple. This level is considered unhealthy for everyone, and many people have to visit the hospital because they are sick. Children and seniors with airway illness are at risk the most. 

The highest levels of AQI, displayed in purple, are similar to standing inside a burning building. The smoke is so harmful that you should wear a gas mask to protect yourself. Some areas in the countryside around Chiang Mai will reach these levels. 

Accurate Health Readings

To protect yourself from harmful smoke during burning season, you need to empower yourself, and take sensible measures. Many will wisely invest in smoke purifies for their home and office.

Note that unfortunately some air purifiers or air quality meters give a number based on an outdated method. For example, AQI is not the same as PM2.5 concentration. Some purifier brands display PM2.5 concentration and are color-coded to the Chinese method. This way of measuring air quality is too lax. The number is displayed in green and appears low, such as 12 or 25. This could give a false impression that the air is safe.

If you looking to invest be sure to check this out before you make your purchase. It’s important you are not being given mis-leading information that the air quality is good, when in-fact you should be taking extra measures such as wearing a mask because the quality is so poor. 

Green values below 50 are only healthy levels when calculated by Air Quality Index, the international standard. Don’t be fooled by false methods. Instead we recommend you rely on AQI to tell you the truth about the air you breathe.

Local Business Keeping You Smoke Free

Some local businesses are using a device developed by AirDeveloppa to monitor, record and share the air-quality level inside their establishments to better protect and give confidence to their patrons.

The list of businesses currently using this system is small, but it’s growing. And it’s hoped that if residents use this to help them select their coffee shops, restaurants, working spaces etc. that will encourage these establishments to invest in good air-purification which will attract more customers, and keep them better protected.

Burning season - monitor pollution in the air device
Image of a publicly available air-purification measurement shown on-site at Yellow (left) an d PunSpace (right), two popular co-working spaces in Chiang Mai.

The meter shows the widely-used international standard AQI in two places: on the screen for customers at the venue and on the map in an Android app, which anyone can download. The visibility of the AQI level will motivate local businesses to purify the air for their customers.

The only areas safe from air pollution are indoor spaces with air purification. Many people and small businesses run several air purifiers indoors already. However, you also need to know which spaces have clean air when you leave the house. How is that gym doing with air quality right now? Which restaurants bother with offering a healthy environment to their guests? Customers should know who cares about their health and choose to visit places with clean air indoors. Likewise, small businesses can now show that they care and display their AQI number to potential customers.

Stay Smoke Safe

  • Invest in air-purificaiton
  • Monitor the air quality using the international AQI standard
  • If levels are poor consider using mask filtration when going outdoors
  • Select venues that have good air-purification wherever possible.

For more details about staying safe n smoke season:

Use the links below for more details on AirDeveloppa, and a good article on this subject by City Life.

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