One Man’s Opinion–Air Pollution in Hua Hin, Thailand

Air Pollution Warning for Hua Hin

By John Laird

INCREASING AIR POLLUTION from motorcycles is becoming a threat to people’s health in Hua Hin.

Small children and old people suffer the most from smoke, toxic gas and particles coming from the two-stroke engines of motorcycles, especially in the town’s narrow, enclosed streets.

The number of motorcycles has grown rapidly in Hua Hin over the past several years. There are probably more than 20,000 in Amphoe Hua Hin, with number still growing. Air pollution in Thailand is increasing faster than in any other Asian country, according to data compiled by the United Nations (ESCAP, 1993).

In Thailand, the average motorcycle produces five to ten times as much pollution as the average car. This is because the small, cheap, two-stroke engines of motorcycles do not burn fuel efficiently, emitting a lot of smoke and unburned oil particles.

The pollution is worse if the motorcycle engine is badly tuned, if the rider travels at high speed, or if the motorcycle is overloaded with people. Badly-tuned and overloaded motorcycles are a common sight in Hua Hin.

Studies published by the United Nations show that pollution from two-stroke motorcycles contains about six times more hydrocarbons than pollution from cars. It contains 40 percent more carbon monoxide. These are dangerous substances.

Hydrocarbons cause unpleasant effects such as eye irritation, coughing and sneezing, drowsiness and symptoms akin to drunkenness. They are largely the result of incomplete combustion of fuel. Hydrocarbons include thousands of different chemical compounds, some of which can cause cancer. Some combine with diesel particles and may contribute to lung disease.

Carbon monoxide decreases the amount of oxygen carried in the blood, which is bad for the heart and nervous system, and the foetus of pregnant women. The classic symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning are headache and dizziness.

Because of their high metabolism, both infants and young children assimilate more air-borne pollutants than adults.

Acute respitory infection (ARI), sometimes leading to pneumonia, is one of the biggest causes of death for young children in Asia. It is aggravated by exposure to air pollutants.

Two-stroke engines running on a mixture of gasoline and lubricating oil produce very high levels of unburned oil particles. There is growing evidence that oil particles, along with smoke can chronic lung disease.

There is not much understanding about air pollution in Thailand. Most people think of motorcycles only as being “convenient” and “fun” and for showing off status. Riding motorcycles has become a fad, even for children.

Most people think the smoke which comes from the exhaust pipe of motorcycles is just a bad smell. They do not know about the damage that this pollution can do to their health, and especially their children’s health.

Studies in European and North American cities, published this year by the British Medical Journal, prompted researchers to declare that the health effects of air pollution from vehicles are more serious than previously believed.

Researchers from St. George Hospital in London now claim that even among healthy people, motor pollution in cities like London may eventually lead to serious lung damage. Another report shows that emissions from vehicles increased the likelihood of children developing breathing problems.

Findings from other cities confirmed that a rise in air pollution is linked with an increase in death and disease, especially among those with heart and lung problems. (Source: BBC World Service, 15 March 1996).

Hua Hin is not a large city like London, but do not forget that motorcycles produce at least several times more pollution than cars.

Consider this: In just one hour, I counted over 300 motorcycles passing by the restaurant where I was having lunch in the popular tourist walkway, Naresdamri Road. In terms of pollution created, that is the equivalent of perhaps 2,000 or more cars passing through Naresdamri Road in one hour.

Petchkasem highway and streets such as Srasong Road around the central market also seem to have the highest concentrations of pollution. Damnoenkasem Road, Dechanuchit Road and Nebkehart Road also have much motorcycle traffic.

What can Hua Hin residents do to lower air pollution levels?

Reduce the number of motorcycles on Hua Hin streets. Do not use them for trips less than three or four kilometers. Use bicycles. Walk short distances. Exercise is good for your heart.

Do not take young children into the streets where there are a lot of motorcycles. When you can smell the smoke from motorcycles, it means you and your children are breathing harmful pollution.

The municipal government and police might consider closing streets to gasoline-burning vehicles, thus creating pollution-free zones. The tourist zone around Naresdamri Road would be good place to start.

[John Laird, a Hua Hin-based writer, was formerly an information officer for the World Health Organization.]

Reprinted without permission from the Hua Hin Observer, a (former) local publication.


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