The Great Smog of 2012


The news these days is smog. Since moving to Phayao we have seen the annual trend of a haze settling throughout northern Thailand during the months of February through April. The haze has been quite frustrating the past two years, but we weathered it. However, this year it has reached a whole new level. Phayao sits upon a lake and mountains stand tall just beyond it. Each year, during these months, the mountains are often out of view because the smog is so heavy, especially come March and April. This year the smog has come even earlier. We haven’t been able to see the mountains for two weeks now, and the smog is thicker than we have ever seen it. The Nation (English newspaper in Thailand) reported today (click here) that there are six provinces which have surpassed, for eight days now, the danger level for particles in the air. And Phayao is the worst of all. The safety level for dust particles in the air is below 120 micrograms per cubic meter. Phayao is currently at 237. During the past three days we have had about 500 yards of visibility, due completely to smog. And remember, Phayao is a town of about 50,000 in a primarily rural area. Bangkok is even within the safety level for air quality.

Here is a picture of what Phayao looks like in September.

And here is a picture I took yesterday from a similar perspective. (I promise this is not edited.)

The smog comes from various sources. Farmers still practice slash and burn every year, particularly during the months of December and January. The horizon is often checkered with lines of smoke going up into the air. There are numerous forest fires these months due to controlled fires not being managed, hunting techniques using fire lines, and wildfires due to the lack of rain. People often burn their trash because it is easier than taking it to dumpsters. People within the city also have a practice of raking up and burning fallen leaves. This is seen on a daily basis all over town. And the local district government continues to burn most of the trash they collect instead of using a landfill. These practices, along with the typical smoke and pollutants that come from businesses and automobiles, produce a huge amount of smog in northern Thailand. The problem is exacerbated because this is the dry season and there is almost no wind or rain. Thus, since Phayao sits in valley, the smog settles all around us, hedged in by the mountains.

During the past couple of days, there have been trucks driving around warning people of the potential health risks. The government has ordered school administrators to not allow students to play nor do their morning routines outside. And the hospital has started giving out face-masks to people because respiratory problems are increasing. We have been wearing them when we go outside. Nothing quite like watching your daughters ride bikes with face-masks on because of an unnecessary smog.

And the frustrating part about all this is that a majority of the people, including the local government and law enforcement, are either unwilling or unable to deal with this serious issue. There is some effort given to dealing with the effects of the smog, such as handing out face-masks, but there is not much being done to minimize the sources of the problem. Thus, we have started brainstorming about ways we can help alleviate this, even though realistically it is probably too late to change much this year. We met with a retired businessman who recently moved here and expressed an interest in helping the local society. It was a productive meeting with various options being put on the table. We will meet with him again this week to see what we can actually do. We have started being more vocal to neighbors and friends about how all the burning is so harmful. This has been met with fairly positive feedback. We are also planning on putting up signs to help bring awareness. For long-term changes, we are looking into developing compost piles for neighborhoods so people won’t feel like they have to burn leaves. These are small steps, but we feel like we have to do something because the situation is so bad.

If you have any suggestions for how to deal with the smog and the burning, please let us know. We are open to any suggestions. And if you know of any business that want to gain some carbon credits, please tell them there is plenty to be done in Phayao.

Please pray that we will get rain soon or else we are in for a long couple of months. Please pray for good health in the midst of it all. (We are already feeling the effects with sinus and allergy issues.) And please pray that we will have wisdom and compassion as we try to promote better practices among neighbors and others.



  1. How sad 😦

  2. Some of the forest fires are intentional so that they can easily grow mushrooms. If that is the case where you are you might suggest boycotting that particular type of mushroom at this time of year. One problem I’ve run into is blaming it on surrounding countries, another problem is regarding it as a yearly “natural” phenomenon.

  3. I love the idea of creative responses to this problem. We’ll brainstorm over here. Because seriously, Brynn playing outside in the face mask is just too much. Love you all!

  4. Liberal propaganda! Seriously, though, great post. That sounds terrifying. It makes me happy you all are tackling these sorts of things.

  5. Derran,

    We’ll be thinking about it here. The very first thing that came to my mind was whether Jim Cooke or any of the other environmental science profs at ACU might be of help. You’ll remember that Jim is Lana’s uncle and this kind of thing is what he loves thinking about and he’s creative.
    I’ll forward the blog link to him but that my initial thought was to wonder what he might suggest.

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