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As PSI rises, sales of face masks soar

S'poreans also stock up on eye drops to protect themselves from haze

Published on Jun 19, 2013 10:14 AM

SINGAPOREANS are taking their own precautions as hazy conditions persist by stocking up on products to protect themselves.

Sales of products such as face masks and eye drops surged over the past few days, as the three-hour Pollutant Standards Index (PSI) reached a high of 155 on Monday night.

At Watsons, face mask and eye drop sales rose by 80 per cent and 50 per cent respectively, said its merchandising and marketing director Micheas Chan.

This amounted to more than 2,500 face masks and 1,000 boxes of eye drops being sold daily across its stores during this period.

A Guardian spokesman said that as of yesterday, it had sold seven times more face masks than the previous week. Some 1,000 face masks were sold on Monday alone. She added that it sold 30 per cent to 70 per cent more eye drops, and 30 per cent to 50 per cent more lozenges, on Monday than the day before.

Air purifier sales have also risen. A spokesman for Air and Odor Management, an indoor air quality company, said: "We sold about 15 per cent to 20 per cent more air purifiers in the past two days, and inquiries for them also doubled to about 50 a day."

People are also turning to online sites to buy such items. E-marketplace Qoo10 Singapore said that sales of masks and air purifiers increased 50 per cent on Sunday, and doubled on Monday.

Among those taking measures to protect themselves was violin teacher Elle Lim, 25, who bought a pack of 10 face masks from a Unity pharmacy on Monday evening.

"Monday's haze was so bad, and I have asthma, so I wanted to prepare myself so that I don't fall sick," she said.

The haze has also affected rental of bicycles at kiosks like Coastline Leisure Bike Station and Lifestyle Bike N Skate at East Coast Park. Both said they usually rent 200 to 300 bicycles a day, but managed only about 100 on Monday.

But they are hopeful business will remain strong. Coastline Leisure Bike Station's manager, who wanted to be known only as Mr Ang, 57, said: "There will surely be kids coming by to rent. After all, it is the school holidays."

Security guard Lee Kok Yew, 43, braved the haze with his wife and two children yesterday to go swimming at the Sengkang Swimming Complex.

"The haze has improved and is nothing actually, and swimming is a good way to cool down in this hot weather," he said.

Additional reporting by Fabian Koh and Lester Wong

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Background story

Different measures of air quality

  • PSI

The Pollutant Standards Index, or PSI, has been Singapore's main indicator of air quality since 1991.

It measures air pollutants such as sulphur dioxide, nitrogen dioxide, ozone, carbon monoxide and PM10, which is particulate matter 10 microns or smaller in size - about one-seventh the diameter of a strand of human hair.

The PSI has a scale of 0 to 400. A reading above 100 is unhealthy, and anything higher than 300 is hazardous.

To keep the public updated on the recent haze situation, the National Environment Agency (NEA) has been publishing hourly updates of its three-hour average PSI reading on its website.

For example, a 3pm update is averaged from readings taken at 1pm, 2pm and 3pm.

The NEA also publishes the averages of the previous 24 hours at 8am, noon and 4pm daily.

Air quality indexes similar to the PSI are used in Australia, Hong Kong and Indonesia.

  • PM2.5

The PSI does not measure a smaller type of pollutant found in haze - the PM2.5, or very fine particulate matter.

These particles, about one-thirtieth the width of a human hair, are more hazardous because they can enter the lungs or bloodstream more easily than larger dust particles.

In addition to the PSI, NEA also publishes PM2.5 readings, averaged over 24 hours, of micrograms of PM2.5 per cubic metre.

Readings above 40 trigger health advisories.

The latest 24-hour reading at 4pm yesterday was 149-169.

  • Other air quality indexes

There is no international consensus when it comes to air quality indexes. Unlike Singapore's PSI, official air quality indexes used by China and the United States measure PM2.5 levels in the air.

For example, Malaysia uses the Air Pollutant Index (API), which measures the same five pollutants as Singapore's PSI, but differs in the standards used to measure several of them.