Malaysia is once again plagued by the occurrence of haze and this time - It’s pretty bad.
According to the Department of Environment’s Air Pollutant Index (API), the air in parts of the country is heavily polluted and readings in most of Kuala Lumpur reached the “unhealthy” range (101 to 200) by 11 a.m. as of Tuesday (September 10).
“Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia’s biggest city with a population of 7.2 million, recorded an API of 157, making visibility a problem. This is also believed to be the highest API reading in the city since the last haze crisis in 2015, the New Straits Times (NST) reported."
Haze is composed of small particles that can affect both your airways and vision. Haze particles are mainly formed from the incomplete combustion of fuel, open-air burning, by-products from motor vehicles or from manufacturing sites and plantations.
The key air pollutants of concern include particulate matter (PM), sulfur dioxide, ozone, nitrogen dioxide and carbon monoxide.
To assess the air quality, we can refer to the Air Quality Index (AQI), which is an index reported daily on air quality. It focuses on the health experience within a few hours or even days after breathing in unhealthy air. A higher AQI value indicates more pollution and a higher health hazard. Nevertheless, it is worth pointing out that poor visibility is not always caused by air pollutants while bad smells in the air do not always mean higher AQI reading.
Air Quality Index. U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Available at: https://dosinghealth.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/07/aqi_brochure_02_14.pdf
API system includes 6 major air pollutants which could cause potential harm to human health should they reach unhealthy levels. The air pollutants included in Malaysia's API are ozone (O3), carbon monoxide (CO), nitrogen dioxide (NO2), sulphur dioxide (SO2), particulate matter with a diameter of less than 2.5 micron (PM2.5) and particulate matter with a diameter of less than 10 micron (PM10).
Among healthy individuals, short-term exposure (i.e. continuous exposure to unhealthy daily average Air Quality Index (AQI) levels over a period of a few days) to high levels of haze particles may cause irritation of the eyes, nose, and throat in healthy individuals. Such irritation resolves on its own in most cases.
Haze particles can affect the heart and lungs, especially in people who already have chronic heart or lung disease e.g. asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), or heart failure.
There may be up to 1-3 days of time between exposure to haze and health effects/ symptoms.
As international studies are based on long-term exposure to air pollution, there is little robust data on the longer-term effects of short-term exposure to haze like the pattern seen in Malaysia.
Studies have shown that persons living overseas with continuous exposure over several years to high ambient pollution from fine particles (i.e. particulate matter 2.5 (PM2.5); particles smaller than 2.5 micrometers), may have a higher risk of
(i) cardiovascular effects, such as heart attacks,
(ii) reduced lung development, as well as
(iii) the development of chronic respiratory diseases, such as asthma, in children.
In general, children, elderly, and people with chronic lung disease, heart disease are more sensitive to the health effects of haze and should adopt preventive measures when air quality is poor.
Individuals are advised to consult their doctor should they develop breathing difficulties. In addition, it is advised that pregnant women reduce exposure to haze for the health of their unborn baby.
Read about What You Can To Remain Healthy During Haze here.
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Dosinghealth.com. (2014). [online] Available at: https://dosinghealth.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/07/aqi_brochure_02_14.pdf.
Healthhub.sg. (2019). [online] Available at: https://www.healthhub.sg/live-healthy/327/impact_haze_on_health.
Apims.doe.gov.my. (2019). APIMS. [online] Available at: http://apims.doe.gov.my/public_v2/faq.html.
Smith, L. (2019). Malaysia is battling the haze again – and KL’s pollutant readings have already climbed to unhealthy levels. [online] Business Insider Malaysia. Available at: https://www.businessinsider.my/malaysia-is-battling-the-haze-again-and-pollutant-readings-have-already-climbed-to-unhealthy-levels/.
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