The Haze and PSI

Another spate of deaths to ponder on. It’s unthinkable that 19 people in Indonesia have lost their lives due to the haze. For PSI levels to soar all the way to 2000, suffocation is probably imaginable. Here in Singapore, a PSI of 300 could mobilize mass-closure of schools, sending parents scrambling for urgent makeshift childcare arrangements on breaking news as such. People who run outdoors on a regular basis have to scale back on outdoor activities. For three months the country was shrouded by a choking smog blanket, while the mask-manufacturing companies were making a quick buck cashing in on the public anxiety over the PM 2.5 particles.

PM 2.5 sized particles are the main culprit in a haze, as they breach the respiratory tract’s natural defenses, penetrating deeply into the alveoli of the lungs and possibly entering the bloodstream. These particulates can enter air-conditioned buildings through the fresh air intake and by infiltration through openings and gaps. These particulate levels indoor can accumulate to unhealthy levels, resulting in undesirable health effects on the occupants. Therefore staying indoors or working out in a gym is not a complete respite from the air outside. The brunt of the haze is borne by people with existing health conditions, such as asthma or pre-existing chronic heart diseases.

The PSI (Pollutant Standards Index) measures air quality and determines the severity of a smoke haze. It takes into account the concentration levels of 6 pollutants listed below, with the spotlight on particulate matter (PM2.5).

  • Particulate matter (PM10)
  • Particulate matter (PM5)
  • Sulphur dioxide (SO2)
  • Nitrogen dioxide (NO2)
  • Ozone (O3),
  • Carbon monoxide (CO)

I was fortunate to have been overseas for two weeks to avoid the start of the haze. This picture looks misty and somewhat blurry because I was caught up in the clouds near the peak of some snow mountain in Yunnan, taking in the crisp air.

Near the peak of Yulong Xueshan in Lijiang, Yunnan, nestled among the clouds at 3 degrees celsius.

Upon landing in Singapore, I was greeted by a dense smoke stench and a visibility challenge, an albeit unpleasant one, that looked like this:

PSI at 371 on 20th June Credits : The Straits Times

The haze was still hovering over Singapore’s skies during the F1 World Championships.  I tried to take a picture of the Marina Bay skyline overlooking the race track but the fog somewhat got in the way of taking a good panorama, with the 24-hr PSI at 66-69, within the moderate range. I tried my best to get a shot atop the Singapore Land Tower at the 42nd story but the picture quality did not turn out too fantastic:

View from rooftop of Singapore Land Tower on 2oth September

These few months have seen a fluctuating PSI, bordering around the unhealthy range of 101 – 200, at times closing up to 300. The PSI even shot up to above 400 on one night in October. Changing directional wind patterns and increased rainfall typical of the end-of-year season temporarily stopped the haze. On one of the good days after the haze abated for a consistent few days, the skies and scenery around Bishan Park looked like everything was back to normal:

Clear skies.
Family day out.
Every cloud has a silver lining.

For now we can hope for favorable wind directions and wetter weather from now till the end of December.

This annual ordeal has brought us to the realization of Singapore’s vulnerability. Despite petitions to the Indonesians to promote sustainable farming in place of slash-and-burn crop cultivation, which causes the haze, it has persisted for years. While NEA is currently working with ASEAN to combat the haze problem, more strategic decisions have to be taken for the common good of its members. A transboundary problem should involve all members in haze-management affairs to tackle a recurring environmental problem.

Economic costs, such as the loss of businesses, tourists and healthcare costs, have been incurred. The Haze Subsidy Scheme has been implemented as a result, which subsidizes treatments for haze-related illnesses like asthma, bronchitis and conjunctivitis for low-income earners, old folk and persons below the age of 18. It was recorded that in 2013, 500,000 SGD worth of subsidies were given out for haze-related treatments.

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