Air Pollution Returns to Singapore and Johor

Bad air pollution levels have returned to Singapore and Johor in the last month. So far the recent air pollution problem has been moderate compared to June of 2013 (or Beijing). The readings have been in the “moderate” problem area but those are noticeable visually and when you are outside breathing the air is obviously more polluted than normal. I don’t usually use my air conditioning but I have the last week due to the air pollution.

The air pollution readings are published by Malaysia and Singapore. Air pollution will get a bit worse at night (assuming everything else stays the same) due to air pressure.

Air pollution has dramatic health consequences. The World Health Organization released a study last month stating that 7 million premature deaths annually are linked to air pollution.

Regionally, low- and middle-income countries in the WHO South-East Asia and Western Pacific Regions had the largest air pollution-related burden in 2012, with a total of 3.3 million deaths linked to indoor air pollution and 2.6 million deaths related to outdoor air pollution.

The damage done by air pollution to health include respiratory diseases such as asthma, cardiovascular diseases, changes in lung function. There is mounting evidence that exposure to air pollution has long-term effects on lung development in children.

With effect from 1 April 2014, Singapore has moved to an integrated air quality reporting index, where PM2.5 (particulate matter 2.5 micros or larger) will be incorporated into the current Pollutant Standards Index (PSI) as its sixth pollutant parameter. The PSI will therefore reflect a total of six pollutants – sulphur dioxide (SO2), particulate matter (PM10) and fine particulate matter (PM2.5), nitrogen dioxide (NO2), carbon monoxide (CO) and ozone (O3).

The 3-hour PSI will take into account PM2.5 concentrations. In addition, NEA will also publish the 1-hour PM2.5 concentrations every hour.

From the Malaysian site today (their update was dated September 2013)

DOE is in the midst of finalising the new Malaysian Air Quality Guidelines to include the standard limit of PM2.5 in the ambient air which based on World Health Organisation (WHO) 2006 Guidelines.

For more details on the measurements see our post last year and the Malaysian and Singaporean web site.

So far the air pollution measurements have been in the 40 to 60 range (where under 50 is considered healthy [though really as you get close to 50 that shouldn’t be seen as healthy]). Today measures are nearing 70, the worst I have noticed this year.

Indonesian fires continue to be the driving force behind the worsening air pollution problems in Singapore and Johor Bahru.

But to add to that Johor Bahru continues to have open burning of trash; including toxic plastics, Styrofoam, etc. daily – you see fires as you travel around the city (people use fires instead of relying on trash collection by the city). This undermines any attempts to brand the city as “green” which is attempted in some marketing (along with trash strewn streets makes this is a difficult claim to take seriously). It also mutes any attempts to tell Indonesia to clean up their act when even a major city is not taking minimal steps to address pollution problems. The challenges for Indonesia to stop pollution causing activity are much greater – dealing with large areas of sparsely populated lands.

The increasing bad congestion for the only two links between Singapore and Johor Bahru are also undoubtedly adding to the air pollution in the region. The failures to fix those delays is a very bad sign for the ability of Iskander to be as successful as it should be. This is a fairly simple planing and administration issue and has been causing severe delays for at least 6 months.

As I said years ago, a 3rd link should have been operational by 2013 and the MRT is critical for 2018 (at the latest) if huge transportation problem are to be avoided. In addition the existing transportation links need to be managed to deal with the already seen, and predicted, increases in demand. The poor performance on these matters has to be a concern for those relying on decent management of transportation resources in the area.

Related: Research from the US National Institute of HealthQuality of Life and Personal Safety International Rankings for CitiesTaking the Bus from Singapore to Johor BahruSingapore’s Green Corridor

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