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Dangerous air quality grips Bangkok, Indochina with no relief in sight

By Eric Leister, AccuWeather senior meteorologist
January 16, 2019, 8:09:56 AM EST

While India’s air quality problems have become a common problem during this time of year, the issue has spread eastward across much of Indochina, affecting parts of Myanmar, Thailand, Laos and Vietnam.

Poor air quality reported in Bangkok in recent days has forced the government to take action in an attempt to limit the effects on millions of people in the region.

Air quality remained a concern in Bangkok on Wednesday as pollution levels climbed to between 150-200, registering on the unhealthy level of the Air Quality Index, according to Air Quality Index China.

Earlier this week, the Tourism Authority of Thailand issued an advisory telling tourists to monitor the pollution levels in their area and take appropriate precautions.

Thailand AP 1/14

Women wear protective masks at the bus stop in heavy air pollution in Bangkok, Thailand, Monday, Jan. 14, 2019. (AP Photo/Sakchai Lalit)

The lack of rainfall during Indochina’s dry season, which runs from January through April, allows pollutants to build up and create dangerously poor air quality.

This problem has worsened in recent years as construction dust, auto exhaust and factory emissions have increased. Seasonal crop burning has also put additional pollutants into the atmosphere.

Around 10,000 face masks were handed out to residents of Bangkok in an attempt to limit the amount of pollution inhaled by residents, according to the Associated Press.

Thailand AP2 1/14

A boat crosses the Chao Phraya river with the cityscape covered smog in Bangkok, Thailand, Monday, Jan. 14, 2019. (AP Photo/Sakchai Lalit)

The city has also put restrictions on diesel vehicles and has sprayed water into the air across the city in attempts to reduce the air quality problems.

In addition to those efforts, the Department of Royal Rainmaking and Agricultural Aviation has begun to use two planes for cloud seeding in an attempt to create rainfall and lower pollution.

Unfortunately, natural rainfall is not in the forecast anytime soon for areas from northern Thailand into Myanmar.

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Dry weather is expected to continue into next week, and rainfall is unlikely to return in high frequency until at least April.

A pair of frontal boundaries will bring some rainfall to areas from northern Laos into Vietnam this week, which will lower the recent buildup of air pollutants in those areas.

Meanwhile, air pollution continues to be a serious problem across northern India where the Kumbh Mela festival is the latest event to be impacted by poor air quality.

Taking place in Prayagraj, the religious festival will host tens of millions of people, according to the Associated Press.

Despite a seven week construction ban around the festival, air pollution levels in Prayagraj on Tuesday were more than six times what the World Health Organization considers safe, according to AQI India, an online air quality monitor.

Lasting relief from poor air quality will not come to northern India until monsoon rains return in June and July.

Heat waves combined with poor air quality turn deadly each spring in India prior to the arrival of monsoon rainfall.

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