Wildfires thicken air over Thailand into planet’s most toxic

By BLOOMBERG

BANGKOK • Top Asian finance ministers and central bankers are due to have a summit in northern Thailand this week, and they’ll need pollution masks if they want to avoid breathing toxic air.

Wildfires and crop burning are blanketing the region with smog, prompting Thailand’s junta leader Prayuth Chan-o-cha to fly to Chiang Mai — the area’s tourist hot-spot — early yesterday to review the crisis.

The city’s air quality index was 379 as he visited, the worst major urban reading globally and a level that’s hazardous, according to IQAir Air- Visual pollution data.

The air was classed as unhealthy in nearby Chiang Rai, where Finance Ministry officials and central bankers from South-East Asian nations as well as China, Japan and South Korea will meet from yesterday through Friday.

The Bank of Thailand has said it will hand out pollution masks to media covering the event.

Thai authorities blame crop burning to clear farmland, as well as wildfires in mountainous forests amid a drought and searing heat.

Chiang Mai has set up a so-called safe zone for residents in a convention centre, while a university in Chiang Rai cancelled classes on Monday and yesterday.

“The haze usually comes and goes within a week or two, but it’s been persistent this time — it’s the worst so far,” Khuanchai Supparatpinyo, the director of Chiang Mai University’s Research Institute for Health Sciences, said in an interview. “This can be quite dangerous, and pose health risks.” — Bloomberg