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Update November 28, 2016

Now is the time to start talking about the smoke season

Chiang Mai Expats Club hears from documentary film maker Marisa Marchitelli

Marisa Marchitelli screened her documentary Smoke; The Documentary at the Chiang Mai Expats Club meeting on November 26, 2016 and answered questions from the audience.

By Shana Kongmun

Smoke; The Documentary, by Marisa Marchitelli, was screened at the Chiang Mai Expats Club General Meeting at Le Meridien Chiang Mai on November 26, 2016 to a packed house. The film explores the smoke crisis that strikes Chiang Mai and the North annually and talks with health, environmental, and tourism experts on the impact the growing problem has had on people and business.

Marisa screened her short documentary film Smoke; The Documentary which showed interviews with doctors, environmentalists, business leaders and residents affected by the smoke. Particulate matter was explained, including the difference between PM10 or particulate matter at 10 micrometers and PM2.5 which is 2.5 micrometers in diameter. PM10 and PM2.5 can both be inhaled and are small enough to enter the bloodstream through the alveoli in the lungs. This can lead to increased risk of heart disease along with emphysema, asthma, lung cancer and other issues. The elderly and children are most at risk during the smoke season.

Marisa is joined by Chiang Mai Expats Club president Nancy Lindley and Board member Jenny Croyston before the meeting.

Surgical masks are useless, they do not filter out these tiny particles, best is to purchase an N95 mask which Marisa told the audience can be purchased at many hardware stores including Home Pro and some of the pharmacies in town.

The standard maximum level set by the World Health Organization or WHO is a PM10 level of 50 over a 24 hour period and 25 for PM2.5. Thailand’s levels are set at more than double with a PM10 of 120 being considered unhealthy and a PM2.5 level of 50 being considered unhealthy. This would be the amount of particulate matter measured in a period of 24 hours. The Thai medical community is not happy with the Thai standard and has urged the government to adopt WHO guidelines.

The film was extremely informative and discussed the amount of tourism business lost in March and April every year due to the smoke, as well as the causes of the increasing amount of smoke seen each year. Fifty years ago, this was not an issue but with the intensification of agriculture and the increased amount of contract farming of corn that is being grown in areas cleared of forest has led to longer and more severe smoke seasons.

As the film and Marisa pointed out, it’s a complex issue and there is no single solution but efforts to give farmers the opportunity to have alternative ways of handling with the biomass left after harvest including the biochar system from Warm Heart Foundation and the development of a mulching machine that can be used by farmers by the Rotary Club of Lampang.

There is a culture of burning across South East Asia that goes year round, but increased farming and deforestation is making the climate drier and leading to increasing droughts and soil erosion that, as Marisa pointed out, can lead to long-term issues in food security.

Marisa also recommended that people at the meeting use the Air 4 Thai app which shows the AQI- a number she finds to be unclear but also offers PM10 levels at air monitoring stations around Chiang Mai and across Thailand. She noted that many of the stations do not monitor the more dangerous PM2.5 levels.

She suggested to members that if they cannot leave during the smoke season to stay indoors, keep their air conditioners on, change the filters in their air conditioners regularly noting most modern air conditioning units use HEPA filters that clean the air. Avoid exercise outside and wear the N95 mask but make sure to replace it regularly. She also suggested as consumers we can put pressure on the corporations that promote contract corn farming such as CP and Betagro through boycotts and public awareness.

The complete film can be found at

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Now is the time to start talking about the smoke season