Air pollution responsible for 29,000 deaths in Thailand in 2021

PM2.5 air pollution was behind approximately 29,000 deaths in Thailand in 2021, according to a Greenpeace Southeast Asia analysis of IQAir data. The number of air pollution-related deaths per capita in Thailand last year exceeded those from road accidents, drug use and homicide combined, the report finds.

“Air pollution was a leading cause of death in Thailand in 2021, and annual mean PM2.5 pollution concentrations dramatically exceeded World Health Organization guidelines. We need to see a commitment from the Thai government to clean up our air and follow the WHO’s Air Quality Guidelines with time bound strategies and plans,” said Alliya Moun-ob, Energy Transition Coordinator, Greenpeace Thailand.

2021 annual mean PM2.5 pollution concentrations averaged across provinces in Thailand overshot the World Health Organizaton’s Air Quality Guideline by more than fourfold. Had PM2.5 concentrations in Thailand met the WHO guidelines, the number of deaths attributable to PM2.5 pollution could have been reduced by 77%.

In Bangkok, average PM2.5 concentrations exceeded the WHO’s annual mean Air Quality Guideline during every month of 2021 and were as high as nine times the WHO annual mean guideline during the worst polluted month of February, according to the report. Air pollution was responsible for an estimated 4,400 deaths in the city last year, and the risk of premature death for those living in Bangkok was estimated to be 13% higher than if the air had been clean, the report found.

Of all provinces studied, levels of air pollution were greatest in Phrae, northern Thailand. Annual average PM2.5 concentrations in the province breached the National Standard in Thailand and exceeded the WHO Guideline by more than sixfold. Some provinces across Thailand do not have sufficient air quality monitoring in place to be included in the study.

Nationwide, air pollution remains especially high risk during winter months of January through March, accounting for almost 50% of annual PM2.5 exposure in the country. During these three months, weather conditions and agricultural burning compound the air quality problems that are created by road traffic, industry and other fossil fuel burning activities.

 “We need Thailand’s government to phase out coal and other fossil fuels, transition to renewable energy and tackle transboundary maize-haze, among other measures. Air pollution is a silent killer and we cannot continue to ignore it.” said Tara Buakumsri, Director, Greenpeace Thailand.

Photo credit: iStock/ VichienPetchmai

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