Bangkok schools closed over air pollution concerns

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More than 400 schools in Thailand’s capital, Bangkok, were shut for the rest of the week Wednesday due to increasing concern over dangerously unhealthy air pollution.

Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha directed Bangkok’s governor to order the closure of 437 schools after officials said the pollution would continue until next Monday. They said still air and heavy traffic are causing a buildup of particles in the air.

The Pollution Control Department said the amount of particularly dangerous tiny “PM 2.5” particles has risen in all areas in and around Bangkok since Monday.

“We decided to eliminate the problem by closing down the schools,” said Police Col. Asawin Kwanmuang, the city’s governor. “We’re afraid that it can be dangerous for the children.” Technical colleges are included among the closed institutions but universities are still considering what to do.

The Public Health Ministry said people should refrain from outdoor activities and exercise, and look instead for indoor venues. Many commuters and pedestrians have begun wearing face masks.

Pollution levels also rose elsewhere in Thailand as well, bringing a heavy haze to Chiang Mai and other northern areas well ahead of the annual “smoky season” that normally begins in late February when farmers burn agricultural waste and dry weather allows airborne particles to accumulate.

Efforts to reduce the pollution level in Bangkok by hosing down roads and spraying water in the air have been criticized as ineffective. People were asked to limit open-air burning of materials, and have even been advised to use shorter incense sticks in upcoming Lunar New Year celebrations.

Governor Asawin said he would consider declaring parts of Bangkok “pollution control zones” if they exceed safe levels for three straight days.

That could include control of diesel-engine exhausts, outdoor burning and construction activities, and possible road closings and diversions.