Bad haze expected, so new PSI roll-out moved up

SINGAPORE - If you thought last June's record haze was bad, be prepared for it to get even worse this year.

A triple whammy of factors could mean pollutant levels will hit new highs, the Government said.

It is acting by rolling out the new Pollutant Standards Index (PSI) on April 1 instead of May 1 to give people a better picture of Singapore's air quality. The new PSI will incorporate small, hazardous pollutants called PM2.5 found in haze and emitted by local sources such as vehicles.

The Ministry of Health and Ministry of Manpower have also simplified haze health advisories for the public, and workplace guidelines for employers.

Minister for the Environment and Water Resources Vivian Balakrishnan and the National Environment Agency (NEA) outlined the potential seriousness of the situation to media on Thursday.

The three factors are: Singapore being hit earlier by haze this year because of the prolonged dry spell, the worse than usual haze now enveloping Riau and the likelihood of the El Nino weather phenomenon developing, as predicted by most weather models. It is linked to drought in this region.

"At a time when we are... not facing a crisis, I think it is the best time to introduce these changes," said Dr Balakrishnan.

People need information so they can protect themselves, he said, noting that they should should reduce physical exertion, especially outdoors, when air quality is bad. Employers should plan ahead to protect workers.

The north-east monsoon has so far kept haze from Riau away from Singapore, said NEA chief scientific officer Indrani Rajaram. But the south-west monsoon beginning around June could blow it in Singapore's direction.

The Government has also ensured there will be "no shortage of (N95) masks", said Dr Balakrishnan. It has stockpiled 16 million, and retailers have more than 700,000 in stock. "We have to prepare for the worst, but hope for the best," he said. "We have been through this before. We are even more prepared now."

ASEAN nations will meet in Brunei next month to try to implement a haze monitoring system that will require Indonesia to share concession maps to pinpoint companies that burn land illegally.

Singapore is negotiating a renewal of its collaboration with Jambi province in Sumatra to help spread sustainable farming practices, said Dr Balakrishnan.

It has also proposed a Transboundary Haze Pollution Bill to hold companies and other entities liable for fires on their land that cause haze in Singapore.

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