Malaysia to shut some schools on Monday due to worsening haze

Malaysians wear face masks as a thick haze hovers over Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, on Sept 26, 2015.
Malaysians wear face masks as a thick haze hovers over Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, on Sept 26, 2015. PHOTO: EPA

KUALA LUMPUR (Bloomberg) - Malaysia ordered some schools to close as the air quality in areas surrounding Kuala Lumpur worsened to "very unhealthy" levels.

The Air Pollutant Index was between 207 and 272 in five districts near the capital on Sunday (Sept 27) as of 12pm Kuala Lumpur time, according to data on the Malaysian Department of Environment website. The air quality has since improved as of 4pm.

Schools in Kuala Lumpur, Putrajaya, Selangor, Negeri Sembilan and two areas in Sarawak were asked to shut on Monday, the Education Ministry said in an e-mailed statement.

It is the second time this month it has had to issue such an order.

Smoke from Indonesian forest fires has blanketed the region with a layer of haze in the past few weeks.

A gauge in Singapore had climbed to one-year high of 334 on Friday, a reading classified as "hazardous", prompting that nation to shut schools and suspend some outdoor events.

A reading of between 201 and 300 is classified as "very unhealthy" in Malaysia and is the second-highest level, below "hazardous".

An airport just outside Kuala Lumpur closed temporarily on Saturday afternoon as visibility dropped to less then 400m.

That forced at least 20 flights to be cancelled, according to Malaysian media reports.

Other reports on Sunday said air service between the Malaysian city of Kuching and Indonesia's Pontianak - both of which are on Borneo - was halted until further notice.

Indonesian National Disaster Management Agency spokesman Sutopo Purwo Nugroho said last Saturday that "fires continue to rage" despite a push to extinguish the blazes by more than 25,000 military, police and other personnel.

He said new fires were cropping up, while some that were previously extinguished had flared anew or had been deliberately re-ignited.

Mr Nugroho also said pollution readings in several Indonesian cities were at hazardous levels, and that nearly 168,000 people in the country had sought medical treatment for respiratory ailments. Indonesia had earlier declared a state of emergency in Sumatra's hard-hit Riau province.

Singapore has named four Indonesian companies it believes may have contributed to the smoke and said it would apply more pressure on palm-oil and forestry businesses responsible for the blazes.

Investigations aided by meteorological data and satellite imagery showed fires on Indonesian land concessions controlled by PT Rimba Hutani Mas, PT Sebangun Bumi Andalas Wood Industries, PT Bumi Sriwijaya Sentosa and PT Wachyuni Mandira, Singapore's Ministry of the Environment and Water Resources said in a statement. Representatives of the companies couldn't be reached for comment by telephone on Saturday.

The ministry also said it served Singapore-based Asia Pulp & Paper Co. with a notice for information on its subsidiaries, as well as measures taken by its suppliers in Indonesia to put out fires in their concessions.

Ms Aniela Maria, listed as the media contact person on the company's website, did not immediately reply to an e-mail seeking comment on Sunday.