Schools are closed, you’re regularly checking your smartphone app for the latest PSI readings and N95 masks are all sold out. These are some of the signs that the haze has returned to Singapore. Singapore may not experience summer, autumn, winter or spring but it seems haze has become an irritatingly recurring season for us. We’re growing to be so accustomed to this season of haze that it is quickly becoming the crux of many jokes. If Maze Runner was filmed in Singapore..
Well jokes aside, the haze has become an annual affair that we wish to avoid. When asked about the haze, many would say it’s that time of the year where dense thick smoke clouds smear the skies. But how much do we really know about those smoke clouds and the haze in particular? Here are 10 things that you might just not have known about the haze.
1. What actually causes the haze?
While the general understanding is that haze is caused by forest fires, its main cause runs deeper than just forest fires. The exact cause of haze is the burning of drained peatlands. So the main culprit for that haze is not the burning of trees or shrubs but rather the peat soil/land.
Peatlands are sodden land that are comprised of decaying plant matter approximately 20 meters deep into the ground. About 14 percent of Indonesia’s land is peatland. Ironically, most peatlands are actually resistant to fire due to the moisture that is trapped in the land. However, peatland drainage for commercialization and deforestation has generated dry peatland, which burns like coal during clearing and fertilization. These conditions are ideal for the smoky, hazy air that to be carried by wind across Southeast Asia. Furthermore, as the peats run deep into the land, such fires are difficult to put out. This explains why handling the haze situation is much tougher than it seems.
2. What does the PSI actually measure?
PSI PSI PSI! What is this PSI?
The Pollutant Standards Index or the PSI is a term Singaporeans would be all too familiar with. But what does the PSI actually measure? Different measures and indexes are used across countries to, in a way, quantify haze. Here in Singapore, PSI does this job of quantifying haze and allowing us to ascertain how bad the haze situation is at that present moment. According to National Environment Agency (NEA), PSI takes into account a variety of toxic matters and gaseous pollutants. These include particulate matter (PM10), fine particulate matter (PM2.5), carbon monoxide, sulfur dioxide, nitrogen dioxide and ozone. While the latter 4 pollutants may seem familiar, PM10 and PM2.5 might be terms you haven’t come across. PM10 are particles in the air that range between 2.5 and 10 microns whereas PM2.5 are ultrafine microns smaller than 2.5 microns. As a matter of scale, 2.5 microns is roughly 30 times thinner than the average diameter of human hair. That’s how deceivingly small those pollutants in that haze cloud can get! For those more keen on the technical computation of the PSI, do check out this link: Computation of PSI
3. What you don’t see are the ones harming your health
We normally associate the sight of fog and smoke to be damaging but the real danger is something we can’t actually see.
Source: http://sites.utexas.edu/imagined-futures/files/2015/04/particulate-matter.jpg As a matter of scientific fact, PM10 constitute mainly dust particles formed when wood and vegetation are burnt. PM2.5 are essentially fine particles that come about from the chemical reactions involving dangerously toxic gases. These small particles appear invisible to the naked eye but it is these particles that pose the greatest threat to your health. And the smaller they get, the greater the danger. Our respiratory system does a pretty decent job at removing dust particles but it does not fare as well in dealing with ultrafine particles smaller than 2.5 microns. Thus PM2.5 particles have a greater chance of getting clogged in lungs and hence pose the greatest health risk among all the particulates in the smoke cloud. Well I guess science proves that size does matter after all!
4. The ‘old’ and ‘new’ PSI
Sometimes it’s the smallest things that matter the most.
PM2.5 particles are somewhat of a new discovery. These little bad guys used to escape the measurement checks and were allusive to the PSI. It is only recently that a study by NEA showed the existence and the significant threat posed by PM2.5 particles. NEA had to revamp the PSI to include the concentration of PM2.5 particles. Previously, the PSI was based off the average concentration of PM10 particles in the air but the ‘new’ PSI is computed based on the average of PM2.5 concentration levels. Let’s just hope there are no other particles still in the hiding!
What can we as a commoner do to help fight against haze?
I won’t fault you for thinking by now that the term PM is some sort of mastermind villain in this whole haze debacle. But it is not all bad news when it comes to the use of the term PM. PM.Haze is a team of volunteers who are passionate to serve as a voice to drive NGOs, governments and companies to take action towards the common goal of ending haze. They believe that rather than complaining and waiting for the government to solve the problem, they as the people of Singapore can do something to help stop the haze. They are actively taking steps to raise awareness and drive initiatives to gather support to tackle haze. Way to go PM.Haze! For more information on their initiatives and how you as a commoner can help, do check out this link: PM.Haze Watch out for Part 2 where we uncover 5 more things you should know about the haze in Singapore.