SINGAPORE: The air and water quality in Singapore have not been affected by the recent pollution incidents in Pasir Gudang, Minister for the Environment and Water Resources Masagos Zulkifli said in Parliament on Monday (Jul 8).
He was responding to a question from Member of Parliament (MP) for Tanjong Pagar Melvin Yong on whether Singapore has been impacted by the pollution given its close proximity, and if authorities are monitoring developments closely.
Since Jun 20, more than 1,000 schoolchildren in Pasir Gudang have experienced breathing problems and nausea. Malaysian authorities are still trying to determine the source of the pollution.
All schools in the area were ordered to close from Jun 25 for three days, but students displayed similar symptoms hours after the schools reopened. On Sunday (Jul 7), at least 11 students at four Pasir Gudang schools were reported to have suffered headaches, nausea and vomiting.
Mr Masagos confirmed that, so far, no toxic chemicals have been detected within Singapore as a result of the incidents in Johor.
“The ambient levels of Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs) in the northeast region were also well within safe limits. The Singapore Civil Defence Force (SCDF) also deployed portable standoff chemical gas detectors in the northeast, and did not detect any toxic chemicals in the air,” he said.
Mr Masagos added that Singapore’s National Environment Agency (NEA) and SCDF are in contact with Malaysia’s Department of Environment (DOE) and Fire and Rescue Department (BOMBA) on the latest incident, and will continue to monitor the situation and provide updates if there are significant developments.
"Our agencies have put in place precautionary measures to guard against any potential pollution impacts arising from chemical incidents, including those from transboundary sources,” he said.
He explained that NEA’s existing air monitoring stations in the northeast region are able to measure the ambient concentration of a variety of VOCs including benzene, toluene and xylene.
“These capabilities - and with the support of SCDF’s portable detectors - should allow us to detect a transboundary plume and to alert our population accordingly,” added Mr Masagos.
The latest development in Pasir Gudang follows an incident in March, when thousands of students, staff and residents in the area were taken ill after chemical waste was illegally dumped into the Kim Kim river in Johor.
As part of efforts to improve air quality in Pasir Gudang, Malaysia's Energy, Science, Technology, Environment and Climate Change Minister Yeo Bee Yin previously said that the Malaysian government will ensure that all factories operating illegally in the area will be shut down.
She added the government will not approve any more applications for the construction of new chemical plants in Pasir Gudang.
In light of the pollution in March, Workers' Party chief Pritam Singh asked in Parliament on Monday about the air and water quality in Sengkang, Punggol, Pasir Ris and Pulau Ubin compared with other parts of Singapore from 2008 to 2018, particularly during the northeast monsoon seasons.
In reply, Mr Masagos said that the air and water quality in the northeast region “were comparable to the rest of Singapore”, including during the northeast monsoon period.
Mr Masagos also outlined how the NEA monitors and reports on the air quality in Singapore through a network of five national monitoring stations across the island.
He explained that the stations are representative of the ambient air quality in the north, south, east, west and central regions. Criteria pollutants are “continuously monitored” and reported on an hourly basis as the Pollutant Standards Index, Mr Masagos said.
To assess Singapore’s water quality, he said that NEA deploys buoy-based monitoring sensors in eight locations around Singapore, including the Straits of Johor.
This is supplemented by monthly collection samples from 48 sampling points around Singapore, he added.