Sam Thompson

The price of ignorance

The recent pollution epidemic in Thailand

Ok, maybe epidemic is too strong of a word. It's not like the world is ending. Not just yet anyway.

I understand the causes of the pollution we've been hit with recently in Bangkok and around the majority of Asia. Most of us do. It's the result of progress - progress made initially in ignorance of what our actions would do to the environment. Yet progress that is slowly also recognizing that problem and trying to address ways to avoid destruction to ourselves.

What is really irritating me (and not just my lungs) is the fact that the general public seems blissfully ignorant of the danger of breathing-in such low air quality

Scary statistics

The Air Quality Index for Bangkok at the moment is 199 - a meaningless number, but for perspective, I know of several international schools in China that won't let kids play outside if the index gets above 120-130, deemed "unhealthy for sensitive groups" by the international non-profit organization [based in Beijing, mind you] that consolidates and provides air quality data worldwide.

199 is considered "unhealthy" for everyone, and a mere hair's breadth away from "very unhealthy," which again for perspective is described as "health warnings of emergency conditions" and "the entire population" is likely affected.

Now, I'm not about to make any judgements about why we aren't being warned about these conditions because after all, I'm just a tax-paying foreigner with absolutely no legal rights, but I do have to observe the idiom on which the true danger rests: ignorance is bliss.


Sadly, and I've confirmed this by talking to many people, Thais and foreigners genuinely don't know that this "fog" we've had off and on for a few weeks now is the same "fog" that the poor people of Beijing face on a regular basis, the same "fog" they're frequently warned about and, in fairness, have been taking steps in recent years to combat.

People here often have no idea that by allowing their kids to go on playing outside and participating in sports, and even just walking to school, they're allowing them to breathe in potentially dangerous chemicals and dust that can make them sick. There's just little concept of it.


In fairness, in my several years in Thailand now, I've never seen it like this.

Sure, we get our days of "oh I wish they'd do something about these Cold War-era red public buses," but a settled haze hasn't been a norm I've experienced. Also in fairness, at least from what I've read and seen from time to time, there are laws and regulations in place designed to combat [or at least start] these issues, but I won't go there.

None of this makes up for the fact that people are getting sick. Has anyone taken public transport lately and witnessed the number of people coughing? It's not just the cold, folks.

My point is this: I understand there is an image to be upheld, and that as a guest in this generally fine country, I have no right (nor desire) to make waves or play the blame game. I just think we should all exercise a bit of common sense. At the very least, be aware of the situation and help make others more likely to be affected (young children, for example) aware too!

I hope you enjoyed my blog. If you would like to get in touch or perhaps e-mail me with a question, I would love to hear from you - All the best, Sam Thompson.


Unfortunately it is probably going to get worse before it gets better as over 5 million people a year are dying prematurely due to air pollution. But no wonder with the amount of pollution we are pumping into the atmosphere and we are not evening talking about all the pollution we are putting into the water and soil. It is unsustainable and insanity that we are polluting what keeps us alive and healthy. So I do not know what it will take for people to wake up before it is too late and demand changes. And meanwhile we do have have ways to generate energy in non polluting ways that are not being fully utilized to say the least due to political and economic special interest such as the oil cartel.

By Thomas, Thailand (22nd February 2018)

You can always come up to Chiang Mai and breathe the horrible air...for less money, of course.

By Mark K, CNX (14th February 2018)

Bangkok is going same way as Chinese cities, And Ive lived and worked in North East China and throat is feeling the same in Bangkok as when i was there. Its gonna be bye Bye Bangkok soon or suffer heath issues

By mark, Bangkok (9th February 2018)

The smog was worst this morning. Horrible. My school is full of coughing kids. I'm not sure If I'm imagining it, but I feel kinda dirty inside. People must be made more aware of how bad the air quality is right now.

My Thai boss came to sit with us foreign teachers for lunch two days ago. She told us that the air quality in Bangkok is one of the worst in the world right now so take care. One fuckwit teacher thought he'd impress the boss by telling everyone that the air quality in China and India is terrible. He said he couldn't believe that Bangkok's air quality was that bad. The boss snapped at him and told him that it really is that bad. Another teacher explained to him that it's the air quality right now. Not in general. No one is knocking Thailand or Bangkok. Our boss has done the decent thing by telling us.

By David, Bangkok (8th February 2018)

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