The health effects of the smoke from the burning of trees and ground cover in Sumatra on the residents of Singapore and Malaysia are not yet fully appreciated, according to a senior UK air quality advisor.
Speaking to letsrecycle.com, Professor Frank Kelly of the Environmental Research Group at King’s College, said: “What we are seeing in Singapore is as a result of ‘biomass burning’. That can be very difficult to assess and the different health impacts from what we saw in China earlier this year is not fully appreciated.
“China earlier this year had problems in Beijing and a number of seaboard cities because of differing problems including dust from the Mongolian desert, emissions from coal fired power stations and from traffic pollution.â€?
As of the weekend of 22/23 June, the smoke pollution lifted from Singapore with a change in wind direction and blew towards Malaysia after several days of high levels of pollution, PM10s, measured by the Pollutant Standards Index.
Professor Kelly noted that the measurements in Singapore were “worryingly high at a PSI of 760. These are almost ‘off the scale’, we can’t quantify the health impacts of that. The actual readings were the highest ever recorded in Singapore and the bottom line is that 300 is bottom of the hazardous scale.â€?
Richard Eminton, in Singapore, described the week’s events and noted: “The week commencing 17th June saw the start of a haze in Singapore, which enveloped the city state, and affected all residents and tourists alike.
“The haze began as a thin mist which began to hang around the skyscrapers of the central business district. At first I thought it was a dense mist or a low cloud, with Singapore often prone to the odd heavy shower. The next day though it was clear that this wasn’t a cloud of rain but a blanket of pollution moving over the city state.
“We heard that again vast areas of nearby Sumatra were being burned in preparation for plantations and the wind was moving the smoke slowly towards Singapore. Wednesday, Thursday and Friday saw new records broken for pollution levels.â€?
Richard continued: “By Wednesday it was clear to see that the residents and tourists were beginning to worry about their health and how high the level would go. Getting my shopping in a supermarket on Wednesday, the man behind the checkout stopped me before I turned to leave, stating in a solemn tone: “Watch out for your health with the pollution today, sir.
“Walking out of the store after that piece of advice I decided to hunt for a mask. This was to no avail though, with stocks running low and with one store owner saying he too would like to purchase one if he could.
“On Friday, with pollution levels hitting the new record high of PSI 400 and then up to almost 800, I had a quick wander around the streets to find a dense cloud of smoke and yellowy haze. The air hung with burnt wood and with temperatures above 30 degrees, the conditions weren’t inviting to spend any longer outside.â€?
Richard added: “By Friday evening though there was a marked drop in the pollution level and talking amongst the locals there was some relief, though still anxiety that tomorrow, 22nd June, would see a new high.â€?
The Singapore government, while seeking to put political pressure on the Indonesian authorities, is taking a number of measures to help the local population cope with the pollution. Lower income groups and vulnerable individuals are being provided with masks.
The government issued a statement in response to comments by Indonesian president Dr Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono’s in Jakarta yesterday (June 24) when he apologised to the people of Singapore and Malaysia for the haze, and affirmed his resolve to fight the forest fires. Singapore Prime Minister Mr Lee Hsien Loong said: “It was gracious of President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono to apologise to the people of Singapore and Malaysia for the current haze situation. We accept his apology wholeheartedly. I welcome President Yudhoyono’s promise to spare no efforts to tackle this serious problem which has caused suffering to the people of Singapore, Malaysia and Indonesia.â€?
The prime minister continued: “President Yudhoyono stated that the Indonesian Police would investigate the man-made causes of the fires and take the necessary legal action against those responsible. I hope that Indonesia will also take swift and sustained action to put out the forest fires and stop the illegal land clearing practices.
“I would also like to reiterate Singapore’s offer of assistance to Indonesia in putting out the fires. Singapore stands ready to work closely with Indonesia, Malaysia and others in the region to bring to an end the haze-related problems which have plagued our region. We need to put in place a permanent solution to prevent this problem from recurring annually.â€?
Over the next two days, the Singapore government said that prevailing winds are expected to continue to blow from the south or southeast.
Slightly hazy conditions were still expected, and the 24-hour PSI for 26 June is expected to be in the Moderate band (51-100). “Based on the 24 hr PSI and the 24-hr PM2.5, the public is advised to minimise prolonged outdoor activity. Employers are encouraged to deploy susceptible employees to work indoors or provide them with N95 masks,â€? the country’s government said.