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The desolation of smog

Our survival guide to a polluted Big Mango

The first month of 2019 has been completely obscured by the hazy descent of smog upon the Big Mango and while Bangkokians are no strangers to pollution, it seems that this may be worse than before. Each morning, we wake up to a smog-infested skyline and step out into the streets breathing in fresh pollution speckled with PM2.5 dust particles, which are dangerous and fine (size-wise, not hotness-wise). Pollution Control Department director-general Pralong Damrongthai said that this may last for another month or two -- with ups and downs -- and the PCD has admitted that spraying water into the air doesn't really help (but it's so much fun so let's continue). Expect Bangkok to look post apocalyptic for a while. But fear not dear readers, we are looking out for you. We've done our research (it's never too late) and we've got a few protips on how to survive the haze.

Sources:

1. 10 Tips to Protect Yourself from Unhealthy Air -- American Lung Association
2. Smog tips: what to do when there’s a pollution warning -- The Guardian
3. 10 health tips to stay safe during Seattle’s smoky haze -- Seattle Times
4. Study: some types of candles may pollute indoor air -- CNN
5. 12-step guide to protect yourself from Delhi’s nasty pollution -- Times of India
6. Air Pollution: Eat These Foods To Build Resistance Against Effects Of Air Pollution -- NDTV

KNOW WHAT YOU'RE DEALING WITH

You can download the Plume Air Report app or the AirVisual to learn what the state of the air is in the Big Mango. The app tells you if you should stay indoors to save your lungs or slow poison yourself with outdoor activities. Each app shows the level of seriousness of the air pollution and advises on what to do or not do accordingly. Very handy on the go (1).

AVOID HOTSPOTS

Bangkokians can probably figure out the most polluted parts of the city so stay away or spend as little time as you can outdoors or on busy streets like Silom or Din Daeng. You can also visit aqicn.org/city/bangkok or air4thai.pcd.go.th to check the air quality index of different spots in the city so you know exactly what you're dealing with (2). Both have many pins on the map for quick clickable info and come with suggestions of how to protect yourself. Having said that...

TRY TO AVOID MAIN ROADS

Stay away from roads, which are jam-packed during rush hour. Okay, I realise that seems impossible since we're in Bangkok but at the very least have a mask on if you really have to walk along these streets. Another thing you can do is spending time inside malls, which you may have already planned to, to avoid breathing in the toxic air (2). The Department of Health is currently hosting a series of free events at many Central malls to provide tips on how to protect yourself from the haze and a free body check-up. It takes place from 3-6pm at CentralPlaza Pinklao today, Rama II on Jan 26, Lardprao on Jan 27 and Mahachai on Jan 28.  

USE PUBLIC TRANSPORT CAUTIOUSLY

Avoid travelling by tuk-tuk, motorsai and open-air buses, which obviously means getting a good whiff of the pollution, if you can. If you can't, always wear a mask. Try taking taxis (provided that they accept you), air-con buses or the BTS to reduce your chances of being exposed to the pollution. Yes, I'm aware that the public transport contributes to the pollution, but unless you're able to walk to work with the right mask then this is the best you can do, for now. Hang in there, fellow commuters.

AVOID STREET FOOD

This is pretty obvious. It's a hard pill to swallow but this is something we're going to have to avoid for the next few days unless you're craving khao moo khrob from that auntie at the top of your soi. Avoid food that is lying in the open in this polluted air. Having said, you should also avoid eating and partying outdoors. Sure, spending the night drinking with friends on a rooftop bar is cool but you may choke due to the haze and cigarette smoke. Smoking isn't the only thing that kills, especially now in Bangkok.

STAY HYDRATED

Although it's been going around that "eight bottles a day" isn't necessary, staying hydrated during these hazy times is of utmost importance. Keeping yourself hydrated, according to Dr Rick Bowles of the Pacific Medical Center in Seattle, avoids dust particles from getting into your lungs too deep. If you haven't been doing it already, carry a Thermos with you so you can take a sip anywhere anytime. Plus, you're helping the environment by not buying plastic bottled water (3) (No, this ain't an advertorial for the fancy glass bottled water).

DON'T LIGHT UP INSIDE

PCD has urged people not to burn anything outdoors, considering it can worsen the smog but that doesn't mean all bets are off indoors. If you're into incense and candles, it's better to hold off from lighting them for now (romance ain't dead, it just has to be on the back burner, that's all). Make sure you've got an exhaust if you're using a gas stove. Windows should remain closed. If you've got the budget, invest in an air purifier, either a mechanical one or a natural one aka a plant (4, 5).

WEAR A MASK

The shortage of N95 masks have people resorting to buying regular surgical masks despite them not being adequate protection from pollutants. As of the writing of this article, there are PM2.5 particles in the air (the particulate matter that is 2.5 micrometers or less in diameter or one twenty-fifth the diameter of a human hair), which can enter our respiratory and blood systems and increase chance of us developing chronic diseases. This is why an N95 mask is still advisable as surgical masks mainly protect from droplets rather than puny, itsy-bitsy particles. There's been an infographic from news site about alternative masks you can use or "upgrades" you can do on the surgical mask like putting a handkerchief or two pieces of tissue paper under it. It was based on a research by Asso Prof Dr Usanee Vinitketkumnuen from Chiang Mai University. It shows that extra layers underneath the normal mask increase protection against PM2.5 particles. If you really can't find any shops selling N95s then you can try some of those methods because it's better to have some form of protection than nothing. Alternatively, you can try online shopping for masks like Lazada but you're probably going to have to buy in bulk and you're going to have to wait for a few days for it to be shipped.

EAT UP

Those with respiratory problems and those who are sensitive to the pollution have the hardest time trying to cope. Certain foods can help the body fight pollutants. Fruits big on vitamin C like oranges and lemons, as well as foods with vitamin E like almonds and fish are a must. Foods rich in omega-3 fatty acids like flax seeds and avocados are great, too. Stock and eat up on all of these to help your lungs combat the haze (6).

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