What is haze?
|The haze reducing visibility of Butterworth (background)|
from Georgetown. Taken from The Star Online,
June 25, 2013.
Haze is an atmospheric phenomenon where dust, smoke and other dry particles obscure the clarity of the sky. Haze particles may act as condensation nuclei for the subsequent formation of mist droplets; such forms of haze are known as "wet haze."
These days the condition of the haze in Malaysia is worsening, so it befits us as citizens of Malaysia to be aware of the effects of haze on our health and take action accordingly.
Haze often occurs when dust and smoke particles accumulate in relatively dry air. When weather conditions block the dispersal of smoke and other pollutants they concentrate and form a usually low-hanging shroud that impairs visibility and may become a respiratory health threat.
Since 1991, haze has been a particularly acute problem in Southeast Asia, Indonesian forest fires burnt to clear land being the reason. In response to the 1997 Southeast Asian haze, the ASEAN countries agreed on a Regional Haze Action Plan (1997). In 2002, all ASEAN countries except Indonesia signed the Agreement on Transboundary Haze Pollution, but the pollution is still a problem today.
Does haze cause Lung Cancer?
Which is worse, smoking cigarettes or breathing in haze? Haze lingers for 24 hours a day, and you can't escape from it. However, cigarettes contain many more carcinogenic substances than haze, and the thickness of haze at an API of 100 is hardly comparable to that of fresh tobacco smoke. Medical professionals have told us that short-term haze will not cause lung cancer, although children, the elderly, and those already suffering from asthma or other lung diseases will experience discomfort from the haze.
However, regions that experience long-term air pollution have been known to display an increase in deaths caused by lung cancer. This supports the idea that long-term air pollution causes lung cancer.
Haze, on the other hand, can cause deaths due to other forms of respiratory diseases. The worst recorded haze to date occurred in 1997, where the haze lasted from July to October of that year. The monsoonal rains remedied the haze situation in November. In September of 1997, an API of 850 was recorded in Kuching. Patients were admitted into emergency rooms due to asthma, upper respiratory infection, decreased lung function and eye and skin irritation.
In 2002, Professor Narayan Sastry published his findings thus in the February issue of the journal Demography:
"A high air pollution day associated with the smoke haze increased the total all-cause mortality by roughly 20 percent. Higher mortality was apparent in two locations -Kuala Lumpur and Kuching (Sarawak) - and affected mostly the elderly. In Kuala Lumpur, non-traumatic mortality among the population aged 65-74 increased about 70 percent following a day of high levels of air pollution. This effect was persistent; it was not simply a moving forward of deaths by a couple of days (a "harvesting" effect). This finding suggests that there were real and serious health effects of the smoke haze..."
Short term haze may not cause lung cancer, but at high intensities it is still dangerous and can cause death.
What should I do about it?
Haze is mostly made of PM2.5, that is, particles with a diameter of 2.5 micrometers or smaller. N95 masks are 95% efficient in filtering out particles between 0.1-0.3 µm in size, and are much more efficient in filtering out larger particles. However, wearing an N95 mask makes breathing more difficult, because of the small pores that the regular air molecules have to pass through.
There are no N95 masks approved for use by children, so children should not wear N95 masks. Instead, young children should avoid spending too much time outdoors at APIs above 100, and avoid outdoor activities altogether at APIs above 200.
Because of slight breathing difficulty when wearing the mask, elderly people and people with lung or heart problems should stop using a N95 mask if they feel uncomfortable. Women in the later stages of pregnancy should also only use the mask for short periods of time.
Surgical masks are not effective in keeping out the PM2.5 found in haze. Those who have healthy bodies and respiratory systems can choose to wear surgical masks if they want to, but those who need better protection against haze, such as elderly people, people with respiratory diseases, and pregnant women, are advised to use the N95 mask - but again, they should remove the mask when they start to feel uncomfortable.
Where can I find out more about the current haze?
Newspapers or online news pages such as The Star or The Star Online provide the citizens of Malaysia with daily updates on the current haze situation in Malaysia. I suggest reading the news or watching the news on TV to keep yourself updated about the situation. Also, if the government decides to declare a holiday for all the schools in your area, the news will be the first way for you to find out, so you'll want to keep yourself updated.
Also, although it has hardly been a week since the haze started this year, there is already a Wikipedia page for the 2013 Southeast Asian Haze (click) and you kind find out anything you want about the haze from there, including the API readings in key cities of Malaysia during the past 10 days. Amazing, isn't it? Technology these days is a wonderful thing.
- Haze, from Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.
- Channel NewsAsia Singapore, "Clinics & hospitals in S'pore see more patients with haze-related conditions".
- Environ Health Perspect, 1994 November, v.102(Suppl 8), Effect of air pollution on lung cancer: a Poisson regression model based on vital statistics, by T Tango.
- 1997 Southeast Asian Haze, by Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.
- Malaysia Kini, "Haze deaths rise as air pollution increases." Letter by Chan Chee Khoon, as of 4:31PM June 23rd, 2013.
- Demography, Volume 39, Number 1, February 2002, "Forest Fires, Air Pollution, and Mortality in Southeast Asia" article by Narayan Sastry.
- Singapore Ministry of Health, Frequently Asked Questions on Haze.
- YourHealth, AsiaOne, How to choose the right mask to protect yourself from the haze.