Extremely Bad Haze in Johor Bahru and Singapore

The haze in Johor Bahru and Singapore has been extremely bad the last few days. It hit the worst reading since 2006 in Singapore a few days ago and today seems much worse. [June 20th update: the air pollution readings exceeded all time highs in both Singapore and JB. And Singaporean Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said the haze could “easily last for several weeks and quite possibly longer until the dry season ends (September or October) in Sumatra.”]

photo of the Haze over Johor Bahru

Updated photo (see the bottom of post for original photo). Haze over Johor Bahru, June 20th at 11AM.

photo of Johor Bahru on a clear day

Photo of the same scene without hazy conditions, buildings in Singapore are visible in the background.

The conditions are mainly due to Indonesian fires. It is hard to reconcile the eco-city push for the Iskandar marketing however with the continued open burning of trash in downtown Johor Bahru daily [update a day or two after the severe haze problems Malaysia seems to have banned open burning if I read press reports correctly].

Update: From the Department of Environment of Malaysia [link broken so it was removed] which publishes API* readings 3 times a day from 4 sites in Johor (as well as the rest of Malaysia). A reading above 100 is unhealthy, above 300 is hazardous. With readings of 300 and above: healthy people will experience reduced endurance in activities. There may be strong irritations and symptoms and may trigger other illnesses. Elders and the sick should remain indoors and avoid exercise. Healthy individuals should avoid out door activities. For readings of 200-250, healthy people will be noticeably affected. People with breathing or heart problems will experience reduced endurance in activities. These individuals and elders should remain indoors and restrict activities.

Location (Johor)
Jun 18th Kota Tinggi 107 118 126
Larkin Lama 116 125 122
Muar 65 70 68
Pasir Gudang 142 153 148
Jun 19th Kota Tinggi 137 138 166
Larkin Lama 122 124 152
Muar 133 157 172
Pasir Gudang 148 149 168
Jun 20th Kota Tinggi 211 232 291
Larkin Lama 171 181 219
Muar 337 383 no report
Pasir Gudang 190 199 333
Singapore (psi**) 162 183 192
Singapore (PM2.5**) 223 247 275
Jun 21st Kota Tinggi 313 314 226
Larkin Lama 190 197 158
Muar 183 193 273
Pasir Gudang 310 323 189
Singapore (psi**) 184 206 198
Singapore (PM2.5**) 247 262 250

Subscribe to the RSS feed for the Living in Malaysia blog. You may also like, Circumhorizontal Arcs, Fire Rainbows, Cloud Rainbows in JB from a day when pollution wasn’t a problem and nature put on a show.

I can understand Indonesia not taking seriously request to stop fires if Johor Bahru burns hundreds of trash fires in the city each day. Granted these fires don’t put up nearly the volume of pollutants but it is burning trash in the middle of a modern city that wants to be seen as an eco-city. And it includes all sorts of materials that put toxic fumes into the air when burned. These fires include a great deal of plastics in addition to plant material. I see many of these fires every day (including the last few days with the massive amounts of haze), multiply that by the amount of the city I see and I can’t believe the fires are not over 100 every single day just in Johor Bahru itself.

photo of a burning trash pile in Johor Bahru

Burning trash pile in Johor Bahru

Health fears rise as haze worsens

Yesterday, the PSI nearly tripled to 155 at 10pm, from 56 at 7am. A reading between 101 and 200 is considered unhealthy, one in the 51-100 range is moderate and a reading below that is good.

The National Environment Agency (NEA) said yesterday that the smoke haze was from fires in Sumatra, Indonesia. NEA said the hazy conditions are expected to persist over the next few days.

NEA said that when PSI readings go above 100, children, seniors and people with existing heart or respiratory ailments should reduce physical exertion and outdoor activity. The general population should reduce vigorous outdoor activity.

PM urges caution as haze worsens

As at 7am yesterday, the Department of Environment’s website listed five areas — Malacca city and Bukit Rambai in Malacca, Balok Baru and Indera Mahkota in Pahang, and Kemaman in Terengganu — that had a high density of pollutants.

Malacca city recorded the “unhealthy” Air Pollutant Index (API) reading of 129, while Bukit Rambai had a reading of 111. Conditions improved after 5pm, when the API readings decreased to 62 and 61 respectively.

The Natural Resources and Environment Ministry said to resolve the haze problem, five countries — Malaysia, Indonesia, Singapore, Brunei and Thailand — would attend the Sub-Regional Ministerial Steering Committee meeting on Aug 20 to 21. The meeting aims to boost regional cooperation and discuss mechanisms to manage transboundary haze pollution. It will also refine proposed mechanisms in the early detection of peat and forest fires through high-tech satellite and “fire danger rating systems”.

The ministry said those found guilty of open burning would be liable to a fine of up to RM500,000 or imprisonment of up to five years, or both. A maximum compound of RM2,000 may also be imposed for each offence.

It isn’t clear what the ministry defines as “open burning” from the article. My guess is it doesn’t mean all the fires I see daily in Johor Bahru. Maybe they mean “large scale burning of forests to clear them of vegetation” or some such thing, I do not know. [update, based on new reports it does seem this applies to all open fires now – and I haven’t seen any since June 20th].

Related: Bishop Trail, Fraser’s Hill, MalaysiaJB to Singapore by TaxiTaking the Bus from Johor Bahru to SingaporeArulmigu Sri Raja Kallamman Glass Temple

Update, Singapore Smog Reaches ‘Hazardous’ All-Time High

Singapore’s smog level reached an all-time high yesterday [June 19th] evening, prompting the government to unveil plans to use satellite imagery to identify companies involved in forest burning on the Indonesian island of Sumatra.

Singapore’s pollution index jumped to 321 at 10 p.m. yesterday, the National Environment Agency, or NEA, said on its website. That’s a record, according to Channel NewsAsia. A reading above 300 is deemed “hazardous.” The reading had dropped to an “unhealthy” level of 137 by 6 a.m.

The Malay Peninsula has been plagued for decades by forest fires in Sumatra to the west and Kalimantan on Borneo island to the east.

* Notes
* = Fine particles (PM10) c = Ozone (O3)
a = Sulfur Dioxide (SO2) d = Carbon Monoxide (CO)
b = Nitrogen Dioxide (NO2) & = More than one pollutant

API calculations
API value is calculated based on the average daily concentrations of air pollutants SO2, NO2, CO, O3 and PM10. The dominant air pollutant with the highest concentration recognized as pollutants that will determine the value of the IPU. Normally, concentration of fine dust (PM10) is the highest compared to the pollutant others and this determines the API readings.

The formation of ozone in the earth’s surface (O3)
By the late afternoon or early evening, usually ozone concentration is high and dominates the API readings in some areas. Under the influence of sunlight, nitrogen oxide-oxide and volatile organic compounds released from motor vehicle exhaust and industry respond to forming ozone in the earth’s surface.

** Singapore provides a PSI reading, Singapore is the only country using this measure. Since 1999, the United States EPA has replaced the Pollution Standards Index (PSI) with the Air Quality Index (AQI) to incorporate new PM2.5 and ozone standards. Singapore has yet to replace the PSI with the Air Quality Index. Instead, it publishes the PSI and the PM2.5 Concentration separately. I averaged the high and low readings from Singapore (they report for various locations in Singapore). Singapore values are reported at 8 AM, Noon and 4 PM.

Although PSI is derived by averaging data collected for the past 24 hours, Singapore publishes its PSI based on data from the past 3 hours instead. This 3-hour PSI is unique to Singapore and was introduced in 1997 to provide additional air quality information which would better reflect a more current air quality situation.

photo showing very hazy conditions on June 19th

Very bad haze in Johor Bahru on June 19th (originally at the top of the post, until replaced with photo from the 20th).