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Minimize burning of offerings over Chinese New Year: MOPH

Department of Health warns that burning of silver-gold paper and incense sticks will make air pollution worse and harm health

The Public Health Ministry’s Department of Health has urged people to minimise the burning of silver-gold paper offerings and to use shorter incense sticks during the Chinese New Year celebrations on January 25-26 this year, so as to prevent hazardous emissions and stop the PM2.5 pollution from getting worse.

Nearly all (98 per cent) of people celebrating the Chinese New Year festival burn silver-gold paper offerings and 79 per cent light incense sticks and of this latter group, only 33 per cent used shorter incense sticks in 2019, the department’s director-general Dr Panpimol Wipulakorn said.

The poll – conducted on 1,657 people in Greater Bangkok during the Chinese New Year in January 2019 – also found 87 per cent of the respondents agreed that the burning of incense sticks and silver-gold paper offerings was harmful to the health while 97 per cent admitted they had eye and nose irritation when exposed to the smoke.

More than half (54 per cent) admitted they didn’t wear protective face masks while burning the items.

Panpimol said that the lighting of incense sticks and burning of paper offerings, an old tradition to worship gods and pay respect to ancestors, gave out smoke comprised of tiny dust particles, carbon dioxide, carbon monoxide, nitrogen dioxide, methane, as well as such carcinogens such as Polycyclic Aromatic Hydrocarbons (PAHs) and VOCs (volatile organic compounds) including Benzene and 1,3-butadiene. The ashes contained four metals, namely chromium, nickel, lead, manganese at 3-60 times more than those found in atmospheric dust. Exposure to these substances could pose harm to human health, she said.

People at most risk were the elderly, small children, pregnant women and those with chronic conditions such as heart and vascular disease and respiratory disease, she said.

This Chinese New Year Festival also coincides with the height of PM2.5 dust pollution so the burning of silver-gold paper offerings in large quantities could worsen the situation, she warned. She urged people to limit the incense sticks and paper offering burning, to wear face masks while burning the items in a well-ventilated space, to wash hands after handling the items and put ashes in bag for municipality workers to disposed it properly.

Meanwhile, the amount of PM2.5 dust particles in many parts of Thailand, particularly Greater Bangkok, are now exceeding the safety limit of 50 micrograms per cubic metre of air.

The air pollution situation in Greater Bangkok as reported by the Pollution Control Department at 7am on Friday had 10 air-quality stations signalling unsafe PM2.5 levels of 52-60 micrograms per cubic metre of air, with Samsen Road in Phra Nakhon district at the top of the scale. As of noon, nine stations cited unsafe levels of 51-61mcg with Samsem Road and Khlong Toei area in Khlong Toei district sharing the top spot at 61mcg each.

In the country’s North at 9am on Friday, Lampang’s four stations in Muang and Mae Mo districts reported 59-65mcg and Phrae’s Muang district 77mcg.

Department of Medical Services director-general Dr Somsak Akksilp also expressed concerns over health impacts from the unsafe PM2.5 levels on those working outdoors such as traffic police, security guards, gardeners, golf course workers, farmers, fishermen, athletes and construction workers and urged them to wear N95 face masks to protect themselves from the tiny particle dust and VOCs.

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