Dangerous White Dust Raises Health Concerns for Laos Residents

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White dust covers the road and local area in Bolikhamxay (Photo: Florian Krauss)
White dust covers the road and local area in Bolikhamxay (Photo: Florian Krauss)

Residents of Thaphabath district in Bolikhamxay Province, where a major road upgrade is underway, have urged authorities to take action regarding clouds of white dust that pose a significant risk to their health.

Locals say that the work along Road No. 13 South, which began in April 2021, has left dust in their eyes and ears, and clogged their lungs, leaving them extremely concerned for their health.

Deputy Chief of the Project for Road No. 13 South, Mr. Kornnuandam Chanthaminavong, said during an interview that the upgrade is taking place in two sections.

He said that the first 40 kilometers of the road are being upgraded by one contractor, while another 79-kilometer stretch is being upgraded by a different company.

The first section is expected to be complete by March 2023, with the second section finished by July 2024.

Local people and motorists using the two stretches of highway have spoken out on social media, calling on authorities to urgently review the situation.

“I understand that the road is undergoing maintenance, but it has a negative impact on the lives of local people and affects traffic. The authorities should just work harder complete it,” said one local.

“I don’t want to live here anymore. I need to wash my body and clothes after going out because of the white dust. I’m also worried that I will suffer a lung disease because of all this dust,” another resident said online.

A group of German tourists traveling from Vientiane to Thakhek earlier this month was shocked by the condition of the road.

“We were surprised. The road, houses, and the surrounding environment were covered in white dust. It was unreal, like snow. We all needed to wear face masks. It was so dusty,” one of the travelers told Laotian Times.

Air pollution caused by dust and burning is a known problem in Laos, particularly in the dry season when the Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment periodically issues warnings to residents regarding dangerously high levels of PM 2.5.

According to a recent study by the Francis Crick Institute in London, researchers say they now know how air pollution can lead to cancer. The study showed that places with higher levels of air pollution had more lung cancer cases that were not caused by smoking.