At the time of writing (Sunday, December 2nd) air pollution in Bangkok according to the Air Quality Index sits between 157-104 depending on your location. What do these numbers mean? As of right now Bangkok sits between unhealthy for sensitive groups to unhealthy for everyone depending on where you live.
Air Quality Index is a site I use often and they even have a free mobile app called Air Quality: Real time AQI which you can download to get real-time updates on a wide range of stats.
The levels of pollution in Bangkok vary each month, for example in February this year schools were closed for a few days as the level of pollution reached dangerous levels, and they thought it be wiser children stay at home than outside.
What causes air pollution in Thailand?
The most common factors to pollution in Thailand are field and forest burning (common in dry months), industrial related activities, roadside burnings and carbon dioxide released from transport.
When there's little to no wind the pollution caused from the above stagnates and stays still. AQI levels tend to be lower when there's a wind or breeze passing through the city. Asia is the most polluted continent in the world, and it's well worth knowing the basics to deal with it in daily life.
Rather than huffing and puffing about pollution which may actually make us worse, below I've written the steps I take to protect my family and myself in Thailand.
Avoiding going out when AQI levels are too high - if I decide to take my family to the park or I'm going for a run, I'll take a quick look at the AQI app and if the levels are above 150, I'll run at the gym and cook my family lunch instead of having a picnic at the park.
Wear a mask - when air pollution levels get too high, consider wearing an N95 respirator mask, not only will you be the coolest dressed person in your soi, it will also help you prevent breathing in micro toxins and brake dust which is released from cars.
In China 3 unique studies were done using N95 masks to see if they had any impact of lessening the impact of pollution. All three showed positive effects including lowering blood pressure due to improved oxygen delivery. Surgical masks do not provide the adequate respiratory protection, and are used for protection against droplets, nor do they filter small particles in the like like an N95.
Break dust are partials of metals that are released into the air when vehicle brakes and the metal hits the rubber on tyres. Acidic sulfate in the atmosphere comes into contact with those metals emitted from traffic and changes their solubility, making them more likely to cause oxidative stress when inhaled. Wearing a N95 masks lowers your intake of these metals.
Eat foods that reduce oxidative stress(OS) - OS occurs when there is an imbalance between the production of free radicals and the ability of the body to counteract or detoxify their harmful effects through neutralization by antioxidants.
Oxidative stress can come from from eating refined oils, lack of antioxidants in your diet, stress, environmental toxins and smoking. Foods that help you reduce OS levels include Coconut oil, avocados, blueberries, lime and many others. In other words, just eat more real foods to protect yourself not only from pollution, but to be the best version of you.
Get house plants - plants breath in carbon dioxide and release oxygen, during the process they eliminate the amount of benzene, formaldehyde and trichloroethylene in the air. Plants are one of the ways NASA researched to clear air in space stations. Snake and spider plants are ideal for the home, are easy to find in Thailand and need minimal maintenance.
Also visit the local parks as much as you can, I always feel in a better mood after going to a park, maybe it's all the clean oxygen making me high!
Walk smart - Bangkok is a great walking city and sub sois are often quite and peaceful. To try minimise your time spent walking on busy main roads like Sukhumvit, even if it means taking a slightly longer route to your destination.
These are all the tips I try to practice on a daily basis to protect myself from air pollution. Most require minimal effort and have become habits as part of my daily life.
Link to studies (1), (2), (3).