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Chiang Mai and Lampang’s Battle Against PM2.5: The Silent Health Crisis Plaguing Northern Thailand

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In the lush landscapes of Northern Thailand, where hills roll and cultures thrive, an unseen adversary wages war on the health of its inhabitants. Chiang Mai and Lampang, two cities known for their breathtaking sceneries and vibrant history, are under siege by an invisible enemy: air pollution. This foe, manifesting in the form of PM2.5 particles, has cast a shadow over the region, contributing to an alarmingly high mortality rate from lung cancer. The Faculty of Medicine at Chiang Mai University has been at the forefront of this battle, unraveling the ties that bind these microscopic invaders to the surge in lung diseases among the northern populace.

Assoc Prof Chalerm Liewsisakul, a dedicated warrior in this fight, has observed a distressing trend over the last decade, marking a significant rise in lung-related afflictions traced back to the worsening air quality. A study he references paints a grim picture: the death rate from lung cancer per 100,000 people soared from 20.3 in 2010 to 30.7 in 2019 in the North, overshadowing figures from other regions and spotlighting the dire need for intervention.

But it’s not just the elderly or the long-ailing that are falling prey to this invisible assailant; even the youth in Northern Thailand find themselves at a higher risk. The insidious nature of PM2.5 pollution is revealed in global research, confirming the sinister link between prolonged exposure to these particles and an increased risk of lung cancer. Prof Liewsisakul unveils findings from a focused study on emphysema patients in Chiang Dao, a locality notorious for its high PM2.5 levels. The study observed significant changes in cells during periods of elevated pollution, hinting at genetic mutations that could be precursors to cancer.

The adversities don’t end there. A barrage of respiratory ailments, from the seemingly benign nosebleeds to the relentless coughs, escalate during the seasons of smog, particularly in March. This annual onslaught exacerbates severe conditions, such as emphysema, heart disease, and strokes, underpinning the acute health hazards of PM2.5.

Delving deeper, researchers at Chiang Mai University’s Faculty of Medicine have mapped a chilling correlation: with each uptick of 10 µg/m³ in the daily average PM2.5 concentration, the mortality rate in Chiang Mai climbs by 1.6% in the following six days. This stark reality was underscored by the tragic demise of Prof Rawiwan Olarnratmanee, whose battle with lung cancer, attributed to PM2.5-induced genetic mutations, ended in April. This loss is one of several that the academic community has mourned in a short span, raising red flags and heartaches alike.

Amplifying the urgency, Maharaj Nakorn Chiang Mai Hospital reports a staggering influx of patients, doubling in the first quarter of the year, all suffering from pollution-linked diseases. The numbers are more than statistics; they are a clarion call for action, echoing through the corridors of hospitals overrun with the afflicted.

Moreover, just as the phoenix rises from the ashes, hope flickers in the gloom. On a certain Saturday, as reported by, Chiang Mai re-claimed a dubious honor, topping global charts for the worst air quality with an AQI of 237 at 8.52 am. Yet, it’s not in despair but in this acknowledgment of the problem that the first steps towards healing and resolution lie.

The fight against PM2.5 is more than a battle for environmental purity; it’s a crusade for the health and future of Northern Thailand. As officials and volunteers grapple with wildfires, as medical professionals toil to unravel and mitigate the impacts of air pollution, the spirit of the North remains undaunted. In the face of adversity, there’s a collective resolve to reclaim the skies, to breathe life back into the air, and to safeguard the heartbeats of its people. It’s a narrative of resilience, of communities banding together, not just to endure but to overcome.

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