One important fact about the Singapore Haze 2015

Singapore-hazeThe last time the haze hit Singapore was back in 2013. The haze was the result of tree burnings (slash and burn) in a nearby country and the resulting smoke was blown over to Singapore.

That time the haze lasted a few days and the worst day had a Pollutant Standards Index (PSI) of about 400. It was hard to breathe and the air smelted like barbeque (in a bad way).

This year, as a result of the haze, our family had to change our exercise routine, reducing outdoor activities and having a less strenuous workout. Credit to Coach Rameshon of FlexiFitness for adjusting our workout in a very manageable manner – He even managed to secure an indoor area for our exercise at the very last minute.

As Rameshon quipped with his classic grin, “Ansgar, my job is keep the workout going and not let it stop.” I knew he could have just cancelled the session and stayed home but he chose to pursue his passion as a great coach for his students.

I remember that my wife, Moon, and I felt lucky that we lived in Toronto during the 1997 South East Asian Haze. That was a big bad haze!!

“Haze” was a rather new word to me at that time.

I had two fragmented but related memories of it. One was in Los Angeles and one was in Hong Kong.

1984 was the Los Angeles Summer Olympic games. The media talked about the heat of the Los Angeles summer (which I eventually experienced when I went to UCLA a few years later). They also talked about the summer ‘smog’ in Los Angeles, which was a combination of the word ‘fog’ and ‘smoke’ and how it would affect the performance of the athletes. A combination of smog and heat was particularly bad for marathon runners. Little did people know that was the year when (somehow a surprise) Portuguese runner, Carlos Lopes, won the marathon in an Olympic record time of 2’09’21, which stood tall for many years.

Fast forward a few years, I remember seeing something similar during the winter of 1991 in Hong Kong. I remember the weather forecast talked about this thing called haze (煙) and I had no idea what the weather forecast referred to. Usually ‘煙霞’ in Chinese is referred to something romantic… However, then I realized it was basically a better name for the phenomenon called ‘pollution’ (from industrial sources)!!

When we were living in Toronto, the beginning of July was the hottest period of the year. It could rise to about 40 degree Celsius and the weather department always advised people to stay indoors because of ‘photochemical smog’, which was a result of pollutants (ozone, nitrogen oxides, organic compounds etc.) reacting with one another under the bright sun and high atmospheric temperature.

Regardless of the nature of these airborne pollutions, they all increase the risk of airway problems, skin irritation, cancers, heart disease, adverse pregnancy outcomes, hospitalization, etc..

However, the haze in Singapore is different. Knowing how it was produced, i.e., forest burning in an attempt to create open land for planting (slash and burn), the resulting gaseous and solid products are mainly carbon dioxide and microscopic ash.

We know microscopic ash particles may mechanically irritate our airways and it is hard to be totally eliminated from our breathing system. On the other hand, carbon dioxide is a naturally occurring gas. Compared with smog or other forms of chemical origin pollution, the haze covering Singapore is relatively “harmless” – at least it is rather ‘natural’. If someone calls it ‘organic’ in nature, I bet people may even form a bee line to buy it!! 🙂

Sure, if there were a choice, people would rather choose to have no haze. However, knowing we have about 300 days (my anecdotal estimation) of sunshine in Singapore annually anyway, I am not complaining.

For now, I would do my running indoors on a treadmill.

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