Haze: Air quality turns hazardous in Kota Tinggi

The Star, 21 Jun 2013

JOHOR BARU: The air quality in Kota Tinggi in Johor worsened with the Air Pollutant Index (API) hitting 313 (hazardous level) Friday morning.

However, the situation in other districts have improved slightly, according to the Department of Environment (DoE) website.

One of the worst-hit districts, Pasir Gudang, showed better API reading at 310 compared to 313 on Thursday night.

Muar’s API reading is at 183 (Unhealthy) from the previous 337 (Hazardous) while Larkin Lama’s air quality improved to the Unhealthy category with 190 from 219 (Very Unhealthy) at 11pm on Thursday.

Buildings in the city centre are only semi-visible from about 1km due to the thick smog.

People are seen wearing masks outdoors to protect themselves from inhaling too much of polluted air.

Meanwhile, Bernama reported Friday that the haze in Singapore worsened Friday with the Pollutant Standard Index (PSI) at the hazardous level of 400 as at 11 am Friday, according to the National Environment Agency (NEA).

A PSI of between zero and 50 is categorised as good; 51 to 100, moderate; 101 to 200, unhealthy; 201 to 300, very unhealthy; and more than 301, hazardous.

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, speaking at a news conference Thursday, warned Singaporeans that the haze was expected to persist for several weeks.

“We cannot tell how the haze problem will develop. It can easily last for several weeks and quite possibly longer until the dry season ends in Sumatra (Indonesia). We will need to adapt our response to suit the changing situation, and protect ourselves in practical and sustainable ways,” he said.

Singapore has set up a Haze Inter-Ministerial Committee (HIMC) to oversee the overall national effort.

The smoke haze from the fires in Sumatra, to clear land for plantations, has been brought over by prevailing winds blowing from the southwest or west, and has affected Singapore as well several states in peninsular Malaysia.

Meanwhile, Singapore representatives met with Indonesian officials to discuss the severe haze situation at an urgent meeting in Jakarta Thursday.

The meeting was arranged by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Indonesia and involved senior Indonesian officials, according to a statement released by the NEA. Singapore stressed that haze remained a transboundary problem that affected not only Indonesia but other countries in the region as well. Indonesia assured Singapore that it would give the issue greater attention.

Indonesia briefed Singapore of plans to increase its capacity to deal with the fires and to get its agencies to report twice a day to a national task force.

Indonesia also intends to step up its law enforcement on the ground by sending investigators to Bengkalis to clamp down on errant plantation companies.

As there had been a report from the Indonesian Forestry Ministry that Singapore companies may be involved in illegal burning activities, Singapore requested that Indonesia share the names of such errant companies, though the primary responsibility to take legal and enforcement action against these companies rested with Indonesia.

It was emphasised that it would be better if Indonesia revealed all the companies involved in such errant acts regardless of whether they are registered in Indonesia, Malaysia or Singapore so that they can all be brought to task.

Singapore also offered Indonesia an assistance package, similar to previous haze episodes, that includes, among other things, an aircraft for cloud-seeding operations as well high-resolution satellite pictures and hotspot coordinates.

Singapore also requested Indonesia to ratify the Asean Transboundary Haze Agreement which Indonesia signed in 2002. Indonesia informed Singapore that it would be seeking parliament’s approval on this.