Singapore-Batam ferry services stopped for 3 hours due to haze

Janice Tai, Samantha Boh, Straits Times AsiaOne 30 Sep 15;

More than 600 passengers, half of them Singaporeans, had their travel plans delayed when ferry services between Singapore and Batam stopped for three hours yesterday afternoon due to the haze.

A spokesman for the Singapore Cruise Centre said it was notified by the Batam Harbour Master at 1pm that all ferries scheduled to leave the Indonesian island were not able to do so.

"As a result, ferries departing from Singapore were also halted," he said.

It was the first time the haze had caused the ferry services to stop.

Low visibility from the haze caused by fires in Indonesia's Riau province also led to delays at Batam's Hang Nadim International Airport in the morning, with some flights having to be re-routed.

Conditions in Singapore took a turn for the worse yesterday, with air quality reaching very unhealthy levels, while efforts intensified to bring the culprits to task.

The Singapore-listed firm facing legal action from the Government for being one of the possible culprits behind the haze stands to lose its green label status for its paper products sold here, said the Singapore Environment Council (SEC).

Asia Pulp and Paper (APP), the largest pulp and paper firm in Indonesia, sells the Nice, Jolly and Livi brands of tissue paper here with the Singapore Green Label seal on them.

The seal to endorse a product as environmentally friendly may have to go if the council finds that APP has been getting raw materials such as wood, paper or pulp from unsustainable sources.

"We have sent them a letter to declare their product sources but they have yet to respond," said SEC chairman Isabella Loh.

She said the products were issued the green label more than five years ago.

APP was served a legal notice by the National Environment Agency last Friday to supply information on its subsidiaries in Singapore and Indonesia, as well as measures taken by its suppliers in Indonesia to put out fires in their concessions.

Yesterday, the council said it would send pledge letters to some 2,800 companies this week urging them to commit to buying only sustainable palm oil products.

These are members of the Singapore Manufacturing Federation, which the council is working with to get companies to adopt green procurement practices. Such a move would exert pressure on supply sources in Indonesia to certify their palm oil products as being from sustainable sources.

Last week, outgoing Minister for the Environment and Water Resources Vivian Balakrishnan said having green procurement practices was a way for the Government to influence the supply chains.

The council said it was working with the ministry on this and would start with paper products.

"When the public agencies practise it, hopefully the private sector will follow suit," said SEC's Ms Loh.

"What is holding them back is that there is a lack of certified palm oil products in the market to choose from," she added.

For instance, only 10 per cent of palm oil products in Indonesia are certified by the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil, an international non-profit certification body.

PSLE to be held in enclosed spaces, with air purifiers
Today Online 1 Oct 15;

SINGAPORE — The Primary School Leaving Examinations will begin tomorrow (Oct 1) as scheduled despite the hazy conditions, with arrangements made for the examinations to be held in enclosed spaces, the Ministry of Education (MOE) and the Singapore Examinations and Assessment Board (SEAB) said in a joint statement today.

Air purifiers will be provided at the venues so that it is safe for the examinations to continue without disruption, even if the haze conditions unexpectedly worsen during the period of the examinations.

“The safety and well-being of all examination candidates remain our top priority,” said MOE and SEAB, adding that schools will remain open and national examinations will proceed as scheduled.

The joint statement added that candidates with underlying medical conditions or who feel unwell should seek medical attention.

The existing processes for candidates who are ill during the national examinations will be activated for candidates who are unable to take the examinations due to haze-related illnesses. Those who are medically certified unwell and are unable to sit for the examinations should inform their schools. Private candidates should inform the SEAB through the MOE at 6872 2220.

Candidates who feel unwell while taking the examinations should inform the examination invigilators immediately. Schools and examination centres are prepared and ready to handle such situations, said MOE and SEAB. “Candidates can be assured that they will not be penalised or disadvantaged if they are unable to take or complete the examinations due to haze or other medical conditions.”

The National Environment Agency has forecast that the 24-hour Pollutant Standards Index tomorrow is expected to be in the high end of the unhealthy range and low end of the very unhealthy range. It may deteriorate to the mid-section of the very unhealthy range if denser haze is blown in.

How haze affects Singapore's greenery
Some plant owners are taking precautions, by moving the plants indoors and giving them extra care. However, experts say most of the greenery in Singapore can withstand short spells of haze.
Leong Wai Kit, News 5 Channel NewsAsia 30 Sep 15;

SINGAPORE: Amid hazy conditions in Singapore, some plant owners have been taking precautions by moving their plants indoors, and giving them extra care. According to experts, prolonged haze is not just bad for humans, but also that of plants.

“Because of the haze we have much less solar radiation coming in,” explained Associate Professor Matthias Roth, from the Department of Geography at the National University of Singapore. “We have much less photosynthetically active radiation coming in as well, so it affects the growth of plants and other ecosystems.

“Just a few days of the haze is not too critical, but if we remember the long and severe period in 1997, 1998 when we had haze for many weeks, the vegetation, some of the leaves and trees started to turn brown. So if the haze persists long enough it can have an impact.”

There are about 2 million trees in Singapore. Many of them are large, sturdy, and low-maintenance. Experts have said that while the haze has potential to affect the growth plants and trees, most of the greenery in Singapore can withstand short spells of haze.

But there are vulnerable plants, such as potted plants. Some nurseries in Singapore have said their flowers are drying up faster. One of their solutions is to move them into air-conditioned rooms. Workers also give the vulnerable plant species more water.

“The haze affects the lighting - it blocks off the lighting,” said project manager of Toh Garden Zhuo Hongyi. “So the orchid plants grow slower. And also the particles in the air cause damage to the more sensitive flowers, because particles in the air absorb moisture from the flowers, causing them to look very dehydrated.”

- CNA/ek

How the haze affects animals
Animals are known to be sensitive to weather changes. With the worsening haze situation in Singapore, there has been an increase in the number of pets needing medical attention.
Nur Afifah Ariffin, Channel NewsAsia 29 Sep 15;

SINGAPORE: Animals are known to be sensitive to weather changes. With the haze situation in Singapore worsening recently, it is no surprise that there has been an increase in the number of pets needing medical attention.

The Animal Recovery Centre said it has seen a 20 per cent increase in pets coming in with eye irritation problems and a 30 per cent increase in those with respiratory problems.

The centre, which treats mainly cats and dogs, said dogs are generally more affected, as they spend more time outdoors.

Said Dr Cheryl Tay, director of medicine at the Animal Recovery Veterinary Referral Centre: "Recently, we had about four, five dogs come in just for coughing after a walk. I think a lot of the dogs that have short noses or really big eyes, like pugs and shih tzus, have a lot of issues with conjunctivitis-type problems, and also with coughing."

Pet owners have also taken preventive measures, starting with reducing the time they take them out for walks.

"Generally, I am not taking him out when the haze is quite bad. The same conditions apply to him as they do to us. We are affected too, my family, my daughter and I,” said Ms Maria Lewis, who owns a dog.

“He has a lot of water handy for him and we also have an air purifier in our house, so he breathes in the same air that we are breathing in,” she added.

Veterinarians also advise pet owners to look out for haze-induced symptoms such as changes in breathing patterns and squinting, and to bring them indoors, should the conditions worsen.

- CNA/dl

No respite from bad air despite downpour
The Straits Times AsiaOne 30 Sep 15;

Those who woke up yesterday morning hoping for clearer skies and fresh air because of the downpour on Monday night were sorely disappointed, as air quality deteriorated despite the rain.

The 24-hour Pollutant Standards Index (PSI), a measure of air quality here, climbed to very unhealthy levels at 4am yesterday. The three-hour PSI also peaked at 250 at 2pm yesterday.

Experts The Straits Times spoke to said this was because it rained here, not on the fires in Indonesia from where the haze is being blown by unfavourable winds.

Associate Professor Richard Webster, an expert in environmental chemistry from the Nanyang Technological University's School of Physical and Mathematical Sciences, said: "It is likely that the rain was very localised in Singapore and did not affect any of the fires in Indonesia. So as soon as the rain stopped, the haze appeared again.

"The only way the rain can help in the long term is if it falls directly on the areas with the fires."

Monday night's rain also left a strong burning smell and smoky conditions. Dr Erik Velasco, a research scientist from the Singapore-MIT Alliance for Research and Technology, said that while rain can remove some of the airborne particles from the air, it cannot do the same for toxic gases, such as those emitted by peat soil fires.

"The acrid smell of the smoke-haze is associated with those gases, so after the rain, we can still sense it," Dr Velasco said.

However, he noted that whether the smell became stronger after the rain was subjective. He added: "We should analyse the chemical composition of such gases in real time to know more about their toxicity."

National University of Singapore geographer Winston Chow added that the misty conditions experienced after the rain were due to water vapour in the air.

He said: "When the air is humid enough, like it was on Monday before and after the storm, the water vapour in the air tends to condense on some of the smoke haze particles.

"This condensation makes the smoke particles increase in size, scattering light more effectively. This makes the haze appear more smoky or dull grey in appearance… which is what we saw."

Nevertheless, Dr Velasco said intense and long periods of rain, such as the one on Monday, are good for Singapore.

He explained: "Although the sky looks hazy after the rain and many toxic gases remain in the air, it will remove particles and give us some relief."