Singapore has been facing the issue of haze from the past several decades owing to its proximity to Indonesia. However, the air quality declined to unhealthy levels for the first time in the previous three years, reported the National Environment Agency. Haze pollution that has caused a whiteout across the island in the last few days stems from unsustainable slash and burn techniques employed for clearing land for agricultural purposes in Indonesia (the same practice that led to uncontrollable fires in the Brazilian Amazon lately). This haze tends to become worse during the dry season from June to September, due to changes in wind direction, and with little or no rain.
The impact of haze on health may vary from individual-to-individual. It mainly depends on the Pollutant Standards Index (PSI; 5 bands being 0-50 for good, 51-100 for moderate, 101-200 for unhealthy, 201-300 for very unhealthy, and above 300 for hazardous air quality), and duration and intensity of outdoor activities. If the PSI approaches unhealthy levels, it may irritate the eyes, nose, and throat accompanied by sneezing and coughing.
Furthermore, if the PM2.5 reading (measure of tiny particle less than 2.5 micrometres in diameter in the air; 4 bands being 0-55 for normal; 56-150 for elevated; 151-250 for high; and above 250 for very high) rises to the elevated range, haze particles can affect the lungs and heart, especially of those with chronic respiratory and heart diseases. Moreover, the very young, the elderly, and people with allergies are also likely to experience the ill-effects of haze.
The Health, Education, and Manpower ministries advised the following measures to tackle haze:
- Refer to PSI level (https://www.haze.gov.sg/) before planning prolonged or strenuous outdoor activities. Although it is safe to carry on outdoor activities in most cases, limiting them may be required with escalating PSI levels.
- Individuals who have to stay outdoors for several hours may need to wear an N95 mask (blocks 95% of all particles in the air). It must fit well around your mouth and nose. If gaps are present, they will be of no use. It is noteworthy that extra respiratory effort is required to breathe through these masks and prolonged use may cause headaches due to lack of oxygen, and pressure effects on the skin and ear lobes. Therefore, vulnerable individuals must consult their doctors before buying one.
- Minimize activities that can cause indoor air pollution such as smoking.
- Keep the doors and windows of your home closed.
- Use an air purifier with highly efficient filters to further reduce the rate of indoor haze particles. A few plants may also serve the purpose of air purifiers to some extent, suggested the NASA Clean Air Study. Some of these indoor pollutant-fighting miracle plants are Money plant, Areca Palm and Mother-in-Law’s Tongue.
- Unlike dry-dusting or vacuuming, wet-cleaning your home can help to remove settled dust particles.
- Use air-conditioners to improve air circulation and clean the filters regularly.
- Ensure adequate hydration as it helps to relieve a dry and itchy throat.
- People with chronic heart and lung diseases must keep their medications handy.
Try to implement these tips until the haze lifts as prevention is always better than cure!