9:11 PM Apr 25, 1996


"I have found that I cannot breathe normally, it is like there is not enough air in my lungs regardless of how hard I try to breathe," he tells IPS. "Even when I am resting at home, it is the same." But it is not only traffic policemen who arey at risk.

A team of health researchers investigating the levels of pollution in the Thai capital recently visited an executive's office on the 15th floor of a downtown Bangkok building.

"We found 38 types of pathogenic fungi and bacteria in the office, the same level as what we found in the streets," one of the visiting team of experts said after the visit.

The results of a survey carried out by another team of doctors and environmentalists working for an insurance company, showed that between October 1985 and March 1986, 18 new species of pathogenic fungi and 20 new types of bacteria had entered the air in the capital.

Life insurance companies, citing official figures that show the lifespan of a Bangkok resident has dropped from 80 to 70 years in the last 15 years, are planning a hike in premiums.

Health ministry statistics show that more than one million Bangkok residents suffer from allergies and respiratory diseases while the rate of lung cancer in the capital is three times that of the rest of the country.

Medical doctors like Chompusak Pulket from the Mahidol University, say that there is little residents and workers in the Thai capital can do to avoid inhaling the foul air.

The only protection that Sathaporn and most traffic police in Bangkok have against the fumes, is to wear a piece of stained white cloth covering the mouth and nose.

Health officials and environmentalists say the only way to beat the problem is to attack it at the main sources -- industrialisation, construction activities, and vehicle emissions. But the government faces a dilemma. The foreign investment that has oiled Thailand's economic growth over the past five years, needs more infrastructural development and an improved transportation network.

The government's just announced 'Action on Air Pollution' plan is thus aimed at make developers clean up their act, rather than slowing down their activity.

The National Economic and Social Development Board (NESDB) has planned a series of seminars, starting in May, in which construction companies will be advised on dust prevention measures like ensuring special care to properly secure construction material being transported by trucks in the city.

Moreover, in announcing the plan earlier this month, Prime Minister Banharn Silpa-Archa warned that those construction companies deemed to be uncooperative, could face suspension of their licences. Thai and foreign industrialists are also being told to shape up or ship out.