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Toxic Air Forces Thai Officials to Close 400+ Bangkok Schools

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Students wear face masks as they are picked up early from school due to pollution in Bangkok, Thailand, Jan. 30. Anusak Laowilas / NurPhoto / Getty Images

Air pollution levels in Bangkok have gotten so bad that the city's governor, Police General Asawin Kwanmuang, ordered more than 400 schools to close through Friday.


"We decided to eliminate the problem by closing down the schools," Asawin said, as The Associated Press reported. "We're afraid that it can be dangerous for the children."

Asawin was told by Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha to order the closure of 437 schools Wednesday. While only public schools are impacted by the order, at least three private international schools have also opted to close, CNN reported.

The closures come as the Air Quality Index for Bangkok measured 175 on Wednesday evening. That's seven times more than the World Health Organization (WHO) safe level of 25. The poor air quality is caused by an uptick in dangerous particulate matter 2.5 (PM2.5). These particles are especially dangerous because they are small enough to embed themselves in the lungs and other organs, and the Department of Pollution Control said they were at unsafe levels in 41 areas around the city. Officials will reassess the situation Sunday to determine if schools will reopen or remain closed.

Bangkok has been battling smog for weeks, Hannah Beech wrote for The New York Times. Causes include the burning of fields by farmers, low wind during the dry season, unchecked industrialization and a rampant car culture.

"In our society, a car is not just a car," Thailand country director for Greenpeace Southeast Asia Tara Buakamsri told The New York Times. "It's a representation of affluence and a symbol of ownership. It will be very hard to get people to give up their cars."

Wednesday's air quality reading made Bangkok the fifth most polluted city in the world, Reuters reported.

Temporary solutions, like seeding clouds and spraying water from cannons, have done little to alleviate the problem. Asawin has also made the city a "pollution control zone," meaning the government can take measures like diverting traffic or closing roads and issue prison sentences of up to three months to anyone who violates orders to reduce diesel exhaust, construction pollution or smoke from outdoor fires, The Associated Press reported.

But Bangkok residents felt that these efforts were short-term fixes that did not address the root of the problem.

"If we want a long-lasting solution, all sectors must be involved, not just government agencies; for example, the private sector involving construction. There are so many construction sites and I can see that preventive measures aren't enough," Bangkok doctor Aek Pongpairoj told The Associated Press.

The high pollution levels come as Bangkok prepares to celebrate the Lunar New Year next week, and residents have also been asked to limit fireworks and incense burning, Reuters reported.

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