'It's so hard to breathe'

SINGAPORE - When he stepped out of his home in Tampines, he started wheezing. The smell of smoke in the air was obvious. The haze was back.

The 21-year-old, an asthmatic who wanted to be known only as Arjun, said his chest felt tighter and he found it harder to breathe.

"The air quality is obviously far from good. Anyone can see that the air quality is far from normal," said Arjun, who is doing his National Service.

Mr Edwin Choo, 36, a civil servant, said he looked out of a window in his four-room flat in Punggol and saw haze forming a blanket around his estate.

"At 2pm, the sky was clear but after a while, I turned around and it was hazy all of a sudden," he said.

"When I opened the window, it smelled like wood after it had stopped burning."

Yet while you can see the haze and smell it in some parts of Singapore, it may not be so bad after all.

The Pollutant Standards Index (PSI) remained within the "good" range for the whole of Friday, according to the National Environment Agency's (NEA) website.

Normally, the good range is between zero and 50 the moderate range from 51 to 100 and the unhealthy range from 101 to 200.

But Mr Choo was sceptical, saying: "I don't think it (the PSI reading) is accurate now, it's still hazy."

The last time the PSI level hit the unhealthy range was in 2010, after forest fires in Indonesia sparked a haze here.

The NEA said in a media release on Friday that the current haze is the result of fires in Sumatra, and was brought to Singapore by prevailing winds from the south-west or west.

It added that the winds are forecast to occasionally blow from the south-west or west for the next few days, and hazy conditions are expected occasionally.

The PSI reading at 4pm on Friday was in the 28 to 43 range, which is in the good range the release said.

While the air quality may still be in the good range, the tiny particles in the air can cause discomfort to some people.

Spike in numbers

Dr Frederick Goh, 45, a general practitioner, said this can lead to a spike in the number of patients who may suffer from allergic reactions, and not just asthma.

These reactions result in itchy skin, eyes and runny noses.

He said: "Asthma patients should refrain from outdoor activities and should not do anything strenuous."

And for a 21-year-old National University of Singapore student, who wanted to be known only as Hong Teck, that means cutting down on his outdoor exercise.

He usually goes jogging four times a week.

He said on Friday: "I'm hoping to jog tonight. It doesn't seem that bad in Bukit Timah (where he jogs).

"But I guess I can use the indoor gym if it is bad."

During normal circumstances, PSI readings are updated at 8am, 12pm and 4pm daily.

But when the PSI level rises, such as in September last year, PSI readings are provided hourly.

Hourly readings were more relevant because shifting winds could cause the haze situation to change at any time.

Smoke from Sumatra expected here

Slightly hazy conditions can be expected during this period, the National Environment Agency (NEA) said on its website on Friday.

It said that in recent days, "hot spots with smoke plumes were detected over Sumatra" (in western Indonesia) and the winds there have been forecasted to blow in the direction of Singapore.

It was reported previously that these hot spots are often caused by farmers in Sumatra who set fires to clear their land. It is not known if they are the cause of the haze this time.

Singapore was also affected by the haze last month. The NEA said it was caused by "an escalation of hot spots" in the northern ASEAN region which was "experiencing its traditional dry season".

The PSI had hit 53, moving it past "good" into the "moderate" range.

In September last year, the PSI hit 71, due to the haze caused by farmers in Sumatra clearing and burning vegetation.

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