The Straits Times
www.straitstimes.com
Published on Jun 17, 2013
 

Haze looms over region as hot spots multiply

Pollution soars to unhealthy levels in Malaysia as Sumatra fires rage

 
 

SMOKE from forest fires in Sumatra, Indonesia, caused air pollution to hit unhealthy levels in several places on the Malaysian peninsula, with conditions worsening considerably yesterday.

In Singapore, readings on the Pollutant Standards Index (PSI) stayed in the moderate range yesterday.

The three-hour PSI reading peaked at 4pm, when it reached 81 - slightly below last Friday's high of 88. Levels above 100 are considered unhealthy.

The Meteorological Service of Singapore said there were 138 hot spots in Sumatra - the highest number in at least the past month.

In the Indonesian coastal city of Dumai, Riau, one of the urban areas closest to the fires, visibility was around 50m only, according to the MetroTV news channel.

Motorists drove with their headlights on during the day, and police officers distributed face masks to residents - some of whom complained of breathing difficulties - as the haze became thicker yesterday.

The hot spots in Riau, with peat and forest fires, were scattered across several regencies.

In Rokan Hilir, Environmental Impact Management Agency head Murni Wati said officials had recorded 33 hot spots in the regency in recent days.

To prevent new hot spots from developing, the agency and district chiefs will tell residents about the hazards of clearing land by burning.

Indonesia's Meteorological, Climatology and Geophysics Agency analyst Warih Lestari told Antara news agency yesterday that the number of hot spots in Riau will grow if the dry weather continues.

Malaysia's Department of Environment (DOE) said readings on the Air Pollution Index (API) at 5pm yesterday showed five places monitored on the peninsula had "unhealthy" pollutant levels of between 103 and 161.

They were Malacca town, Bukit Rambai in Malacca, Port Dickson in Negeri Sembilan, Port Klang in Selangor and Kemaman in Terengganu.

On Saturday, three places showed up in the unhealthy band.

None of these places had such unhealthy air pollution levels three days ago.

The places affected are located mainly on the west coast, except for Kemaman which is situated on the east coast.

Other places in Peninsular Malaysia saw a general increase in their API readings as well, with most of the 52 places monitored showing "moderate" air quality.

In Kuala Lumpur, the API reading hit 92, putting it just below the "unhealthy" mark.

The haze was carried across the region by winds that are part of the westerly monsoon season.

zakirh@sph.com.sg

yyennie@sph.com.sg