SINGAPORE: Air quality in Singapore hit unhealthy levels on Saturday (Sep 14) as the Pollutant Standards Index (PSI) went beyond the 100 mark at 4pm.
This is the first time since August 2016 that the 24-hour PSI reading has reached the unhealthy level.
At 4pm on Saturday, the 24-hour PSI reading in the western part of Singapore breached the 100 mark to hit 103.
Readings inched up throughout the evening and by midnight, the PSI was 116 in the west, 113 in the south, 104 in the east, 103 in the north and 98 in the central region.
According to the National Environment Agency (NEA), PSI readings of 50 and below denote “good” air quality, “moderate” for 51-100 and “unhealthy” for 101-200.
When air quality is at the unhealthy range, people – especially children, the elderly, pregnant women and those with heart or lung conditions – should reduce prolonged or strenuous outdoor activities. Those who are not feeling well should seek medical attention, NEA said.
The one-hour PM2.5 concentration readings ranged from 90-158µg/m3 at 4pm, with the west seeing the highest levels of 158µg/m3 in Band III (High).
PM2.5 is a measure of tiny particles less than 2.5 micrometres in diameter in the air. When the PM2.5 reading is in the elevated range, haze particles can affect the heart and lungs, especially in people who have chronic heart or lung conditions. Those with such conditions should ensure that they have their medication on hand, NEA said.
According to NEA, one-hour PM2.5 readings are a "good indicator of current air quality", and can be used for those deciding whether to go for immediate outdoor activities, such as a jog.
HAZY CONDITIONS EXPECTED TO PERSIST
In its media advisory on Saturday evening, NEA said that the air quality worsened in the afternoon due to a confluence of winds over the nearby region that led to more smoke haze from Sumatra being blown towards Singapore.
Hazy conditions are expected to persist for the rest of the day, it added.
And over the next 24 hours, the PSI could enter the mid-section of the unhealthy range if denser haze is blown in.
A total of 450 hotspots were detected mostly in the Riau, Jambi and South Sumatra provinces, said NEA, a sharp increase from the 156 hotpots detected on Friday.
"Moderate to dense smoke haze from persistent hotspots in Riau and Jambi has been blown by the prevailing winds to affect Singapore and the southern parts of Peninsular Malaysia," it noted.
Forest fires have raged through parts of Sumatra and Kalimantan in recent weeks, prompting the Indonesian government to send in military and police to douse the flames.
In Malaysia, air quality dropped to "unhealthy" levels in and around Kuala Lumpur, according to the government's air pollutant index, and the skyline has been shrouded in thick smog.
"Stronger resolve and cooperation" among ASEAN countries are needed to tackle the issue of transboudary haze, said Singapore's Minister for the Environment and Water Resources Masagos Zulkifli.
He added that Singapore has offered help to Indonesia to fight forest fires there.
The last time the PSI breached the 100 mark in Singapore was on Aug 29, 2016, when the 24-hour reading hit 109 in the north.
The worst haze episode in Singapore in recent years was in 2015, when rampant forest fires in Indonesia choked the region in haze for weeks. PSI readings in Singapore climbed above the hazardous level of 300, forcing schools to close.
NEA has assured the public that there are sufficient stocks of the N95 masks.
"We would like to assure the public that there are sufficient stocks in the warehouses and Government stockpiles," said the agency on Facebook.
"We are working with the retailers to move available stocks to the retail shops, and stocks will be available progressively from today (Sunday)."
Amid concerns about the possibility of haze affecting next weekend's Formula 1 race at the Marina Bay street circuit, organisers Singapore GP said this was one of the potential issues covered in its contingency plans.
"The plan was formulated and refined with stake holders, government bodies and the Formula One community," Singapore GP said in an emailed statement to AFP.
"In the event that the haze causes visibility, public health or operational issues, Singapore GP would work closely with the relevant agencies before making any collective decisions regarding the event."
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