Release AP-I..............Dr. m
- Life does not cease to be funny when people die any more than it ceases to be serious when people laugh.
My tongue in cheek caption, taking a pun at today's political issue is no laughing matter. All started by a statement from Dr M, "Release the AP list". Well this Dr m (note small "m") says "Release the AP-I (Air Pollutant Index)". I have been tracking the Haze episodes in Malaysia since 1997. I have written about it several times in Berita MMA under
A.P.I : Time to put it out! Clouding the issue Enterovirus, Haze, Nipah and Dioxin. What's Next? Review Hazedous HAZE: Are we hazy about the facts
Today the issue is no clearer. All this cross border collaboration, transboundary meetings, Asean Haze Action, etc have clearly shown that we have not done enough. While the government ponders about how to bring yet another natural disaster (mainly man-made), there has been many calls to have the government release the API. There is no clear logical reason for not doing so. On the plus side, knowing the API will educate the public and create awareness, example, when the API rises, so as to allow them to report in cases of indiscriminate burning. It will allow elderly and young children to make informed decision as to what kind of activities they can be involved in outdoors. On the minus side, the government is worried that this may cause unnecessary fear and keep tourists away. I strongly believe the latter is completely false. Educating the public as to the cause of Haze which is primarily from forest fires, slash and burn activity and peat soil burning is different from smog or other forms of air pollution. The current haze is caused by particulate matters from burning wood or coal.
Particulate matter, or PM, is the term for particles found in the air, including dust, dirt, soot, smoke, and liquid droplets. Particles can be suspended in the air for long periods of time. Some particles are large or dark enough to be seen as soot or smoke. Others are so small that individually they can only be detected with an electron microscope.
Some particles are directly emitted into the air. They come from a variety of sources such as cars, trucks, buses, factories, construction sites, tilled fields, unpaved roads, stone crushing, and burning of wood. Other particles may be formed in the air from the chemical change of gases. They are indirectly formed when gases from burning fuels react with sunlight and water vapor. These can result from fuel combustion in motor vehicles, at power plants, and in other industrial processes. Chief causes of concern - (depending on the cause), PM
- is associated with serious health effects.
- is associated with increased hospital admissions and emergency room visits for people with heart and lung disease.
- is associated with work and school absences.
- is the major source of haze that reduces visibility.
- settles on soil and water and harms the environment by changing the nutrient and chemical balance.
- causes erosion and staining of structures including culturally important objects such as monuments and statues.
Health problems for sensitive people can get worse if they are exposed to high levels of PM for several days in a row.
In addition, we are living in a world where information is at the finger tips. The information highway makes it easy for anyone to get data on weather, news or haze effect in this region. One has only to go to http://www.wunderground.com/global/ID.html to have an idea of the weather in Indonesia and you have written there prominently "Haze". This is the same for Malaysia, today for Kuala Lumpur. Couple this with a google search, "Haze Malaysia" will show Bloomberg has already wired this out.
Let me quote from my June 2004 article, "By publishing the A.P.I index we do not have to refer to
- the Meteorological Service Singapore site which gives latest satellite images, hot spots areas etc.
- the Haze Action Online with daily news updates in the region
- Southeast Asia Fire Danger Rating System maintained by the Malaysian Meteorological Service which gives fire risk in this region.
- Haze/Smoke- Vads Corner which has been keeping track of haze events with numerous links since 22nd September 1997.
By visiting these sites, one has an idea or a good guesstimate of what it is like here in Malaysia. But one guess may not be good as another and that is how misinformation spreads. What is so wrong in releasing the A.P.I? The amount of news on "Rape" and "snatch thieves" that we have on our news everyday is enough to scare the tourists away! Singapore gives an hourly update of 3-hr PSI readings from 7am to 7pm. The readings are calculated based on PM10 concentrations only which makes sense as this is what we are interested in at the moment. Thailand has a more comprehensive air quality data given on a daily basis. So what is Malaysia so scared about? Are tourist not visiting Singapore and Thailand? "
In the USA, the Clean Air Act, which was last amended in 1990, requires EPA to set National Ambient Air Quality Standards for pollutants considered harmful to public health and the environment. The Clean Air Act established two types of national air quality standards. Primary standards set limits to protect public health, including the health of "sensitive" populations such as asthmatics, children, and the elderly. Secondary standards set limits to protect public welfare, including protection against decreased visibility, damage to animals, crops, vegetation, and buildings.
The EPA Office of Air Quality Planning and Standards (OAQPS) has set National Ambient Air Quality Standards for six principal pollutants, which are called "criteria" pollutants. They are listed below. Units of measure for the standards are parts per million (ppm) by volume, milligrams per cubic meter of air (mg/m3), and micrograms per cubic meter of air (µg/m3).
National Ambient Air Quality Standards
9 ppm (10 mg/m3)
Same as Primary
Annual (Arithmetic Mean)
Same as Primary
Particulate Matter (PM10)
Annual2 (Arith. Mean)
Same as Primary
Particulate Matter (PM2.5)
Annual3 (Arith. Mean)
Same as Primary
Same as Primary
Annual (Arith. Mean)
- 1 Not to be exceeded more than once per year.
- 2 To attain this standard, the 3-year average of the weighted annual mean PM10 concentration at each monitor within an area must not exceed 50 ug/m3.
- 3 To attain this standard, the 3-year average of the weighted annual mean PM2.5 concentrations from single or multiple community-oriented monitors must not exceed 15.0 ug/m3.
- 4 To attain this standard, the 3-year average of the 98th percentile of 24-hour concentrations at each population-oriented monitor within an area must not exceed 65 ug/m3.
- 5 To attain this standard, the 3-year average of the fourth-highest daily maximum 8-hour average ozone concentrations measured at each monitor within an area over each year must not exceed 0.08 ppm.
We should have similar standards for Malaysia. I do not think anyone blames the government for the haze, we all know it is mainly from Indonesia, (maybe with some help from some local fires) but we can blame them if they insist in keeping us in the dark by not furnishing the API. What is important, is our media are more objective and do not sensationalise the issue.
I am not sure but maybe we should look at the "World Largest Waterbomber" . Maybe we could have a couple in this region to have a quick global/local response action in putting out fires.
Lastly, from my August 1999 issue I concluded the following:
- Visibility index may be deceiving. A perception of a very high level of pollution in the air may be concluded because of the relatively high humidity in the atmosphere when in actual fact the API could be low.
- Regional "noise" particularly at ground zero (Indonesia) may wrongfully be extrapolated to Malaysia as there is no clear-cut index unlike that in Singapore and Thailand to compare.
- Regional information from ASEAN TRANSBOUNDARY HAZE UPDATE , Current and Recent Significant Global Fire Events and Monitoring of Smoke Haze and Forest Fires in Southeast Asia from Meteorological Service Singapore will give many an idea of what might be the situation in the country.
In conclusion, without the API, information already available on the Internet would give people an idea of what the situation is like in Malaysia. Sometimes a wrong conclusion could be drawn.
With the API being available, the "picture" would be more transparent and thus, accurate. Parents, elderly, the sick (especially those respiratory problems) and medical doctors would benefit and could make meaningful decisions.
I would like to conclude with a statement by A.Prof. Dr Krishna Gopal Rampal from the Berita MMA "HAZE: Are we hazy about the facts " during the last haze episode in September 1997.
Lessons to be learnt from the current haze episode (1997)
The issues this haze episode raise include: the uncertainty among the public of what to expect the next day; the manner in which the information on the haze was communicated to the public; the health effects (both short term and long term) and the economic loss as a result of the haze. It is sincerely hoped that the current haze episode (being the worst so far) has provided those involved in studying and managing the haze problem enough information to combat this problem the next time around. ......The question remains - will we be better prepared the next time around?
Are we? It does not look like it.
Just when I completed this article and sent it to the editor, the API was released! At last someone had the courage to undo what should not have been done in the first place. The current API can be viewed at this site. ( http://www.doe.gov.my// )
Dr Muruga Vadivale a.k.a "Cyberdoc"
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