The recent clear skies are a welcome sight after the past month of hazy conditions. But the hotspots in Indonesia rage on which means strong winds can blow the smog back to our island state. Don’t get caught off guard if the dreadful haze descends upon us again. Read on to learn more:
How did the haze come about?
Peat fires stemming from illegal slash-and-burn practices in Indonesia (especially in the Borneo and Sumatra islands) are the root cause of this issue. Such burning is deemed the quickest way to clear land for farming (predominantly for industrial-scale palm oil cultivation). When the resulting smoke is carried by the monsoon winds, we end up with the transboundary haze.
In 1997, hazy conditions hit a high of 226 PSI (3-hour Pollution Standard Index), which prompted ASEAN member states to ratify the ASEAN Agreement on Transboundary Haze Pollution (AATHP) in 2002. However, the haze continues to be an almost annual affair with record high readings exceeding 400 recorded in 2013 and 2015 in Singapore.
If it’s just smoke from burning vegetation, why is it so bad?
Haze is a harmful (and potentially carcinogenic) mix of chemicals including cyanide, carbon dioxide and formaldehyde. It also contains very fine particles known as PM2.5 (particulate matter smaller than 2.5 micrometers) of ash, wood and other substances that can lodge deep inside the body and linger there.
Continuous exposure to PM2.5 particles may lead to a higher risk of cardiovascular effects, such as heart attacks, reduced lung development, as well as the development of chronic respiratory diseases (eg. asthma, bronchitis, etc), especially in children and the elderly.
How do we cope with the haze?
Until illegal slash-and-burn practices are stopped, there will always be the possibility of haze recurrence in Singapore. How do we carry on with our daily activities as best as possible when haze strikes? The National Environment Agency (NEA) has released a handy guide for you to plan your activities accordingly at different PSI ranges.
When the PSI level is in in the unhealthy range, you are recommended to take these practical steps:
- Wear an NIOSH-Certified N95 or EN-149 mask* when heading out.
- Stay indoors and reduce physical activities.
- Close doors and windows to reduce haze particles from entering your home.
- Do not smoke in enclosed areas, especially around children and elderly.
- Use an air filter/purifier to circulate the air in the enclosed room.
- Turn on the air-conditioner. For window aircon units, close the outdoor air intake opening – let the air-conditioner circulate the air internally.
*Wearing a mask is only useful when it is fitted properly! Check out the advisory by the Ministry of Health (MOH) here on how to use a mask correctly.
Check out these steps on how to fit a mask over your face:
To get the latest air quality updates, you can check out NEA’s Haze Website: https://www.haze.gov.sg/
Is the haze affecting your health?
Each individual’s reaction to haze exposure may vary according to your health conditions. Haze exposure is particularly harmful to:
- Persons with pre-existing respiratory issues (eg. asthma, sinus, etc)
- Pregnant women
These groups of people should take extra precautions to minimized prolonged haze exposure. Persons with chronic and/or respiratory conditions should have their medication (like inhalers) readily available.
Need to see a doctor but don’t want to be outdoors?
Developed a cough or sore throat as a result of haze exposure? Video-consult a Singapore-licensed GP via the Doctor World app from the comfort of your own home. You won’t have to head out of the house at all since medication (if prescribed) will be sent to your location under 3 hours.
Protect yourself, stay hydrated, and download the Doctor World app in case you need to seek medical advice!