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Singapore not spared from Thailand's worst haze in 14 years

By Sheralyn Tay, TODAY
20 March 2007

As thick smoke from forest fires and slash-and-burn farming cloaks Thailand in its worst haze in 14 years. Singapore, too, has not been spared.

The Republic experienced a slightly hazy start to the week, with the overall PSI just falling out of the "good" range.

At 7pm yesterday, the PSI reading went into the "moderate" range for a reading of 52 — the highest level in March.

It was the third consecutive day of slightly hazy conditions, with the 24-hour PSI ranging from 42 to 44 over the weekend. On Sunday, the smell of smoke could be detected in areas like Orchard Road and Toa Payoh.

According to the National Environment Agency (NEA), "smoke haze particles" from fires in the northern Asean region are being carried over by mild winds, contributing to hazy conditions.

"The weakening winds, which is typical during the transition from the north-east monsoon to the inter-monsoon during this period, has not helped in dispersing the smoke haze particles," said an NEA spokesperson.

Over in northern Thailand, the choking haze has disrupted air travel, and health warnings have been issued advising children and the elderly to remain indoors or use masks. Even healthy adults have been asked to cease all exercise outdoors.

Experts believe that the extended winter is trapping smoke close to the cold ground and preventing it from dissipating into the atmosphere. The cold is also pushing the smoke down into low-lying areas. The haze has affected some five million people in Chiang Mai and parts of Laos and Myanmar. Media reports said that more than 13,000 have sought medical treatment for haze-related illness.

But here in Singapore, some did not even notice the hazy weather — although it still made its presence felt. Asthmatic Chris Dubberke, 27, had some difficulty breathing yesterday and had to use his inhaler pump, but did not realise the cause was the haze.

But still, he does not foresee a return of last October's haze — where PSI levels hit 136, a record high for the year. "It's not the first time Singapore has experienced the haze, so every time there are reports of haze I take the necessary precautions," said the psychology student.

The NEA has said that it will continue to monitor the situation closely. -TODAY/na