Haze comes, government in tizzy

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Not only has the government’s response to this week’s haze problem been one of weak-kneed impotency, the absence of any effective solution shows how little has been done to prepare for what has, over the last two decades, become an annually recurring problem.

We knew as far back as middle last year that the El Nino weather pattern was returning for 2013. We knew it would mean a hotter, dryer year than normal, so not only would haze be a virtually certain problem, it may turn out to be prolonged and more intense. And yet, when it hit, it looked as if the authorities were caught by surprise.

Falsetto yelps came out from ministers’ mouths, telling citizens they were going to Jakarta to supplicate some action on the Indonesian government’s part. So far, all we’ve gotten are photo calls and excuses why nothing much can be done. “Only rain can help Singapore now” says a headline in the Jakarta Post, 20 June 2013. It quoted Indonesian Forestry Ministry general secretary Hadi Daryanto saying that Indonesia could not guarantee that measures taken to combat the fires would be effective “without a miracle in the form of a heavy downpour.”

One day later, around midday 21 June 2013, the three-hour moving average PSI reading set a new record: 401, in the “very hazardous” zone. The reading for  PM2.5 was well above 200. PSI stands for  Pollutant Standards Index, and is a measure of air pollution. PM2.5 measures fine particles, i.e those less than 2.5 micrometres in diameter, which are typically produced by combustion. The World Health Organisation considers prolonged exposure to PM2.5 levels exceeding 10 micrograms per cubic metre to be hazardous to human health.

As this NASA satellite pictures shows, the smoke from fires used to clear land for planting in Sumatra is blowing directly over Singapore.

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This has been an annual problem for years. Yet we seem to have settled into a defeatist frame of mind, thinking that the only solution is to get the Indonesians to put out fires. In all these years, has no thought been put to designing domestic solutions?

The satellite picture above suggests one. What if we set up a curtain of water to the west of Singapore, such that the smoke-filled air flow from Sumatra gets washed before it reaches us?

It would be a mammoth undertaking, and it will take a few years to set up such a system. And perhaps, a few years more to improve it. But I can imagine a fleet of huge hydrogen-filled airships, that can float close to the sea surface to fill up its tanks with seawater, then rise to about 1,000 metres at which altitude they spray down a fine mist of water. To create an effective curtain, we will need about 300 of them strung out along a line maybe 30 kilometres long, with another 300 more sucking up water while the first 300 are doing the spraying.

I don’t see this as a prohibitively costly solution. Seawater costs nothing. The airships aren’t going to use much fuel bobbing up and down since they will have a natural buoyancy (though they will be huge, as water is heavy). Only extracting hydrogen from water is costly, but if we have a clever (and safe) way to store hydrogen from one year to the next, it is a re-usable asset.

People will naturally have a fear that hydrogen-filled airships are fire hazards. Indeed, there is a risk, but these super-blimps can be unmanned and will anyway operate over the sea, not over populated areas. For controlled manoeuvering, tugboats to which the airships are tethered can be used.

The result may only be partial cleaning of the air, but a reduction of, say, 200 points from what might otherwise be a 300 to 400 PSI will surely be welcome. More importantly, it will allow much economic activity to continue without interruption.

* * * * *

As it is, the government has been extremely reluctant to issue Stop Work orders, merely issuing “advice” to employers. This dithering is one more example of lack of preparedness. It shows that the government has not thought through the scenario of high PSIs. As a result, even when the PSI touched 400, construction and other workers doing strenuous jobs were still at their jobs, taking deep breaths of smog at their peril. Online, one can see people accusing the government of valuing dollars more than human lives.

Indeed, if work across a whole range of activities, from construction to shipbuilding, landscaping to trash collection, are stopped for any length of time, all sorts of financial consequences will follow. Many contracts contain penalty clauses for non-performance of stipulated work. Projects that aren’t completed on time trigger liquidated damages.

But there is a legal concept known as Force Majeure. As explained on Wikipedia, it is

a common clause in contracts that essentially frees both parties from liability or obligation when an extraordinary event or circumstance beyond the control of the parties, such as a war, strike, riot, crime, or an event described by the legal term act of God (such as hurricane, flooding, earthquake, volcanic eruption, etc.), prevents one or both parties from fulfilling their obligations under the contract. In practice, most force majeure clauses do not excuse a party’s non-performance entirely, but only suspends it for the duration of the force majeure.

In real life, there tends to be much controversy whether an event is a valid basis for force majeure, leading to much litigation. This is where the government can play an important role. It can create a legal presumption that for the duration that PSI is above a certain level (e.g. 200) it is a valid basis for declaring force majeure, unless the party objecting to it can prove that work could have continued.

Thus, for example, if in 2013 we find ourselves with 8 days where PSI is above the threshold, then all completion dates of construction work will automatically be moved back 8 days.

If I can think up this solution to the problem, why didn’t the government? Why hasn’t legislation been put in place well in advance of a haze season?

* * * * *

Yesterday, the government boasted that they had nine million N95 masks in stock.

The Ministry of Health (MOH) said Thursday that there are sufficient stocks of N95 masks to meet national needs and that there was no need to stockpile.

Large retail and pharmacy chains will have the masks available for purchase by Thursday evening, said the ministry.

The government currently has 9 million N95 masks in stock, and there are plans to purchase more.

– Channel NewsAsia, 21 June 2013, Sufficient N95 masks, no need to stockpile. Link.

At first it seemed like a lot for a city of five million. Then someone pointed out that a mask can typically be used for just 45 minutes.

The government also didn’t seem to say clearly how they would be distributed, though the news report above and a statement on the Health Ministry website suggests that they will be sold for profit:

Singapore has sufficient supplies of N95 masks nationally to meet anticipated demand. People should only buy N95 masks when required. There is no need to stockpile.

MOH has worked with manufacturers and suppliers to bring in and supply more N95 masks to our local retailers and pharmacies such as Guardian, Unity, Giant and Cold Storage.  This would ensure that masks are available to the public.

As of the afternoon of 20 June 2013, there have been 7,000 and 21,000 N95 masks that have been distributed to Unity and Guardian [pharmacies] respectively.

– FAQ, Ministry of Health. Link.

On Facebook, people are up in arms after hearing that the state stockpile has been given out to commercial pharmacies, helping them make huge profits at jacked-up prices. Why didn’t the government also set prices? Did no one among the bright sparks in our civil service expect profiteering to happen?

Update: It was announced Friday night that one million N95 masks will be distributed to the poorest 200,000 households free of charge. But a story in Today also reported Teo Chee Hean saying that

The Government, he said, is dealing with the situation “decisively”, and is pushing more masks to retail outlets.

– Today, 21 June 2013, Govt to distribute N95 masks to low-income households, Link.

Meanwhile people are going around wearing surgical masks and paying quadrupled prices for them too. But, as I understand it, surgical masks won’t make much difference because they do not fully seal the nose and mouth.

This massive confusion stemming from poor planning and communication only shows how ill-prepared the authorities are. Yet, haze is not something new. It has been occurring annually since the at least the mid 1990s. Each year, we don’t seem to have planned for it, nor through these twenty years, have we bothered to come up with solutions we can implement ourselves to protect our own people.

73 Responses to “Haze comes, government in tizzy”


  1. 1 Civil Serpent 21 June 2013 at 22:51

    The airships could be bouyed by helium, instead of hydrogen. It’s a lot safer as helium, a noble gas, doesn’t combust.

    • 2 yawningbread 21 June 2013 at 22:55

      I checked out helium and found that it is much more expensive than hydrogen, primarily because it is a rare element. Helium for party balloons is fine, but getting enough of it for airships is another matter. Hydrogen is plentifully available from splitting the water (H20) molecule. The only problem is the splitting, but even then isn’t as costly as helium.

      • 3 Benedict 22 June 2013 at 01:01

        Yes, and hydrogen much lighter than helium. But getting the seawater up either by pumping or raising and lowering the airships continuously is going to cost some money. Definitely worth a trial. Or maybe they could build something like a giant fountain curtain to shoot water up along the west coast. Could be cheaper than the airship solution.

      • 4 Pat 22 June 2013 at 02:11

        @ Benedict: “Or maybe they could build something like a giant fountain curtain to shoot water up along the west coast. Could be cheaper than the airship solution.”

        On a related note, the wind is already naturally sending sea-spray into the air along the Straits of Malacca. Sea spray consists of relatively large water droplets (200 – 300 μm) that mostly reach only 4 – 5 m above the sea level. Even during Sumatra Squalls, the number of water droplets thrown into the air over the sea surface is insignificant at 20 m altitude.

        If one wishes to build a fountain canon to “wash” the smoke haze, it has to shoot a wall of water to > 5km above the sea level, while also making sure that the water doesn’t prematurely evaporate on its way up (due to compressional heating within the troposphere). Otherwise, one is simply pseudo-“washing” the relatively-cleaner air a few metres immediately above the sea surface.

        Note that the smoke haze from Sumatra is being carried to S’pore on easterly upper-level monsoonal winds (> 400 millibar atmospheric pressure => ie. > 4.3 km altitude over ocean, or > 4.6 km altitude above land mass).

      • 5 yawningbread 22 June 2013 at 10:34

        Does that mean we need only to wash the upper air, above 4 km?

      • 6 michelle 22 June 2013 at 14:16

        @Pat, if it is 4km above, we shouldn’t be experiencing any haze at ground level. Further, the sea spray u mention is in micrometres. Shooting jets of water would create much bigger droplets like rain. We could build vertical pipes to spray at a higher altitude.

      • 7 yawningbread 22 June 2013 at 17:02

        I don’t know what you mean by “build vertical pipes”, but since haze is a seasonal problem we wouldn’t want anything permanent that might obstruct seaborne traffic. Moreover, using dirigibles means they can be moved to whichever direction the haze-wind is coming from.

      • 8 Pat 22 June 2013 at 18:27

        @ yawningbread: “Does that mean we need only to wash the upper air, above 4 km?”

        1) Most of the smoke particulates reaching S’pore are carried on upper-level monsoonal winds (> 4km altitude) – not lower-speed surface winds (1 -2 km altitude) which are more subject to frictional drag from the ground/sea surface as well as the Coriolis force.

        2) Even if we manage to remove every contaminant from 4km & above, the heat generated by the ongoing forest fires creates huge columns of turbulent rising air. As such, smoke particulates will still infiltrate to the upper layers of the troposphere.

        3) Water mists (fine or coarse), sprinkles or sprays are not going to “wash” air (upper or lower). In fact, if you generate enough aerosol mist near the sea surface at low altitude (1-2 km), what you get is something visually worse: Wet Haze (… in this case, wet smoke-cum-seaspray haze).

        And if you raise the humidity to 100% at low altitude, you get something visually & chemically worse: Acid Fog. Pls see my other reply below (22 Jun 2013, 18:05) for an elaboration.

        4) The only way to effectively “wash” smoke-contaminated air is a sustained heavy downpour (natural or artificially-induced). In which case, when we “wash” the air above 4 km altitude, we are also “washing” the air below 4 km.

        5) For a non water-based method of air remediation, aerogels might be an option. Aerogels are extremely lightweight, porous & absorbent synthetic solids. These are already being used to control oil spills, as well as remove impurities from water & air. NASA has also been using alumina aerogels to capture elusive, hypervelocity meteoritic dust in outer space.

        In fact, the latest version of grapheme-carbon aerogel is able to absorb up to 900 times its own weight, but is 7.5 times lighter than air. Eg. See: ‘Carbon Aerogel Supersponge Could Soak Up Oil Spills’ (IEEE Spectrum – 22 Mar 2013).

        If S’pore has the technological know-how, the funds & the guts, it can conceivably line up a Great Wall of Giant Balloons along the Straits of Malacca. These balloons can be filled with granular graphene aerogel to absorb some of the smoke haze from Sumatra. (Instead of granules, aerogel “blankets” can also be deployed, but these are more prone to physical damage.)

        The advantage of using aerogels is that smoke particulates & other toxic contaminants can be safely disposed of at a suitable site — as opposed to using the heavy rain method which merely transfers the contaminants from the air to the sea below.

        However, considering the immense extent of the forest fires & associated smoke drift, this hypothetical Great Aerogel Wall has got to be monumentally long (thousands of km) & monumentally tall (up to 14 – 15 km altitude). Recall that under such forest fire conditions, it’s quite pointless to clean only the upper or lower parts of the troposphere.

        As such, it’s much cheaper & logistically much easier to induce heavy rain via cloud seeding. A prolonged period of heavy downpour not only washes down the smoke, but also tackles the source of the problem by putting out the forest fires & saturating the smothering peatlands.

      • 9 Pat 22 June 2013 at 19:27

        @ michelle: “if it is 4km above, we shouldn’t be experiencing any haze at ground level.”

        What I mean is that the smoke particulates reaching S’pore are mostly carried over by upper-level monsoonal winds (> 4 km altitude). Don’t forget that smoke particulates can dift downwards, sideways & upwards within the atmospheric column due to diffusion, as well as air pressure differences (resulting in rising/ descending air, wind). Smoke particulates also have weight & are affected by gravity.

        Dry smoke-haze occurs (eg. during daytime in S’pore) when the air near the ground (altitude 2 km & below) contains a large quantity of suspended smoke particulates. Once the smoke particulates have drifted down to low altitude, they are more likely to tend to remain there in the absence of any turbulent upward-force (eg. strong heating from massive ground fires or continentally-large land masses) to drive them upwards again.

        @ michelle: “Further, the sea spray u mention is in micrometres.”

        That’s precisely why I brought up the related topic of natural sea spray. The micrometre droplet size of sea spray is similar to the seawater droplets produced by the artificial misting system suggested by Alex in the article. As I already pointed out, neither sea spray nor artificial misting (fine or coarse) at low altitude (1 km, as proposed by Alex) or even high altitude is going to “wash” smoke particulates from the air.

        However, if Alex’s sea salt mist (aerosol) is released at high altitude at the base of suitable cloud clusters, the sea salt particulates can function as cloud condensation nuclei (CCN). This is akin to hydroscopic cloud-seeding — note: sea salt particulates are hydroscopic (water-attracting) — which is already more efficiently carried out using planes (instead of balloons) & other kinds of salts (instead of sea salts) as CCN.

        @ michelle: “Shooting jets of water would create much bigger droplets like rain. We could build vertical pipes to spray at a higher altitude.”

        Yes, rain droplets (0.4 – 0.6 mm across) falling from *high* altitude (4 – 15 km) can wash down airborne smoke particulates. That’s why successful cloud-seeding giving rise to sustained heavy rain is the standard approach for treating large-scale & intense forest fires.

        Note again that if you were to introduce pseudo-rain at *low* altitude over the sea, it is not going to do much good for S’pore, as the upper-level winds will continue to carry the rest of the smoke to S’pore & elsewhere.

        Moreover, even if the pumps of your seawater jets are strong enough to shoot via vertical pipes up to 15 km into the sky — ie. disregarding the combined effects of gravity pull, frictional drag (pipe-water interface) & turbulent hydraulic drag (naturally generated as non-laminar flow travels through pipes), etc. — there is still the logistic constraint to consider.

        Scale-wise, the forest & plantation fires on Sumatra, as well as the smoke drift are spread over thousands of km long & broad, as well as up to 15 km high. As such, how much terrestrial-based equipment & manpower would you need to create a genuinely-effective wall of rain to intercept the gigantic “parcel” of smoke-laden air ?

        Unlike successfully-seeded cloud clusters that can develop at a geometric rate over large areas before precipitation results, pipes & pipes do not reproduce on their own.

    • 10 Hansel Ang 22 June 2013 at 21:56

      Why are we quibbling over minor details?
      The intention is clear, a water curtain that drags particle matter into the sea. Pat, if I may suggest, more solution focused, finding solutions to the issues of the solution rather than problem focused, finding problems with the solution.

      The energy created from the curtain could affect weather patterns detrimentally as well and something that has to be considered. However, given the current state of leadership, I am highly skeptical of our ministers risking his head on this idea. To my knowledge, non of them are trained in the sciences.

      Aerodynamics is a complex science and it does not help that the PAP thought the problem was solved with a simple set of signatures!

      • 11 octopi 24 June 2013 at 15:50

        Which part of “this solution is not going to work” do you not understand? I thought that yawningbread was going to come up with some brilliant solution, and I was disappointed although I can see the value in getting input from everywhere.

        The other criticisms though, are more trenchant. Why don’t we have the govt saying beforehand, knowing well that 2013 is potential an El Nino year, that everybody should get their masks ready before the haze takes place? And why do people think that it’s such a great idea to make our manual labourers work through these shit conditions?

      • 12 octopi 24 June 2013 at 15:56

        There are several reasons why having air balloons in the Straits of Malacca are a terrible idea.

        First is the price of helium. It is extremely expensive.

        http://www.marketplace.org/topics/sustainability/whats-behind-helium-shortage

        Second is their most probably having to be deployed in Indonesian airspace.

        Third, why do you want to have something that can disrupt shipping traffic in the Straits of Malacca? Brilliant way to get the REST OF THE WORLD mad at you, eh? Put some hydrogen balloons out there hanging over thousands of ships carrying billions of dollars in cargo. Yeah, people are just going to allow you to do that, huh.

        The Straits of Malacca is the LIFEBLOOD of Singapore. You just don’t anyhow fuck around with it.

      • 13 Selwyn 26 June 2013 at 09:21

        Pat : “Note that the smoke haze from Sumatra is being carried to S’pore on easterly upper-level monsoonal winds (> 400 millibar atmospheric pressure => ie. > 4.3 km altitude over ocean, or > 4.6 km altitude above land mass).”

        In typical meteorological convention, easterly winds come from the east. upper level monsoon winds would blow the smoke to west sumatra. While some smoke might be carried to 400 hpa, especially in strong plumes or by convective cores, most of the smoke brought to Singapore were blown over by low level monsoonal winds, which are westerly (from the west). what I think you mean is that the smoke must clear the atmospheric boundary layer, which is about 1km here. at which point the 850hpa winds would blow the stuff to singapore or malaysia. observationally and in some models, a concentration of such aerosols is indeed seen around 3km. thus, any “washing” does not need to go above 4km to deal with the bulk of the aerosol. however, the other technical difficulties raised such as reevaporation, visibility problems etc. would still be problematic.

  2. 14 xavi 21 June 2013 at 23:02

    There is no reason why the govt should be prepared for a severre haze, even though the haze has been around for 20 years. It did not forsee the obvious infrastructural needs of a country that adds 2 million to its population in 20 years. Indeed, if not for losing a GRC in the last GE, it may Still not be aware of the needs.

  3. 15 Natureschild 21 June 2013 at 23:24

    The S’pore govt is using the usual ‘fire-fighting’ (re-active) approach to the very serious haze situation for the past many years. Any haze-fighting strategy, and costs involved, must surely be thought of, discussed and implemented well before the haze starts, all over again!

  4. 16 abaorox 22 June 2013 at 01:31

    a tender with a few flying boats should suffice as well, no new technology required.

  5. 17 Pat 22 June 2013 at 01:43

    From post: “What if we set up a curtain of water to the west of Singapore, such that the smoke-filled air flow from Sumatra gets washed before it reaches us? [...] then rise to about 1,000 metres at which altitude they spray down a fine mist of water.”

    At 1 km altitude, the proposed fine mist of seawater will completely evaporate before it gets to “wash” the smoke-laden, fast-moving monsoon-driven air. And the sea salt particles would just fall back to the sea.

    This is not just because of the heat of the smoke haze, but more importantly, due to compressional heating inherent within the troposphere (0 – 14 km altitude). The latter action is responsible for the meteorological phenomenon of virga — ie. precipitation (arising from mid-altitude clouds 2 – 4.5 km) that quickly evaporates before even reaching the lower troposphere.

    On the other hand, if the seawater mist is sprayed higher up in the troposphere (5 – 13 km altitude, < 2°C), the mist will still evaporate before "washing" down any of the smoke haze, but here, you are in effect attempting hygroscopic cloud seeding.

    The evaporated seawater mist gives rise to sea salt aerosol, whereby the sea salt particles (suspended by high winds) behave as cloud condensation nuclei. However, for hygroscopic cloud seeding to work, you would need to first locate a suitable cloud cluster, such that the seeded cluster is able to develop vigorously & to a sustained height without dissipating.

    Depending on wind speed & location of initial seeding, successfully-seeded cloud clusters may precipitate over the Straits of Malacca or S'pore itself. In the event of the latter, do note that precipitation released by cloud clusters seeded under haze conditions (or above forest fires) is likely to be more contaminated — ie. consisting of dirty rain with a lower pH & elevated ozone/ mercury/ etc. concentrations.

    • 18 yawningbread 22 June 2013 at 10:32

      Perhaps I shouldn’t have said “fine mist”. Given a fall height of 1,000 metres, maybe a coarse mist?

      • 19 Pat 22 June 2013 at 18:05

        @ yawningbread: “Given a fall height of 1,000 metres, maybe a coarse mist?”

        To “wash” the air & drag the smoke particulates down to the sea, you need a wet downpour. Note that during a heavy rain episode, rainwater droplets (0.4 – 0.6 mm across) fall at an average terminal velocity of ~5 m/s.

        If you are thinking of the kind of “coarse mist” produced by mist-makers, the constituent water droplets range from 1 – 10 μm in diameter (average: 5 μm). This is akin to artificially creating cloud droplets (also 1 – 10 μm across in size) at a low altitude, & which fall slowly (< 0.0001 m/s) under gravity.

        Assuming that that the nozzles of your mist-makers are immune from clogging by smoke particulates, a hypothetical Great Wall of Giant Mist-makers shooting coarse mist up to 1 km altitude would serve to raise the relative humidity of the air above the sea surface, as well as increase the quantity of suspended sea salt particles — ie. in addition to the smoke-haze particulates already aloft in the air.

        So what results is an aerosol suspension of smoke + (increased) sea salt particles in the further-humidified air above the sea. Under such conditions, both the sea salt & smoke particulates act as condensation nuclei.

        At 75% ≤ relative humidity < 100%, water vapour in the air condenses onto the said nuclei, resulting in the formation of wet haze that would extend from sea surface to 1 – 2 km altitude (ie. below the atmospheric boundary/ friction layer, above which faster mid-level & upper-level monsoonal winds flow respectively).

        The water-swollen aerosols in wet haze scatter all wavelengths of light more efficiently — resulting in a featureless, dull greyish-white smog. In effect, wet haze impedes visibility more than dry haze (composed of non water-nucleated smoke or sea salt particulates alone). And in the event that relative humidity approaches 100% (eg. at night), both the increasing size & concentration of condensed water droplets act jointly to restrict visibility even further.

        Note that the amount of suspended smoke particulates may not necessarily have increased overnight, but visibility is nevertheless being impeded by the condensation of water vapour around the existing smoke particulates.

        As such, the proposed Great Wall of Giant Mist-makers in the sea off Sumatra will create a visually-impenetrable wall of wet haze along the Straits of Malacca. This will further exacerbate the reduced visibility caused by dry haze alone — even while upper-level monsoonal winds continue to carry the majority of the airborne smoke particulates to S’pore.

        In fact, wet haze is usually the reason why people in humid S’pore complain that the PSI (or even PM2.5) measurement does not reflect the “terrible” haze that they see at 7am every morning. Actress Michelle Chong’s recent photos showing the haze outside her window vs. her house wall respectively is a visual example depicting wet haze. (Assuming smoke concentration remains constant, visibility tends to improve post-morning due to decreasing humidity, such that wet haze transitions back to dry haze.)

        During normal weather in S’pore, relative humidity easily reaches 100% (dewpoint) between late night & before dawn. However, relative humidity seldom reaches 100% at night during haze season, because the heat of the smoke-haze & the increased concentration of airborne impurities make it more difficult for the air to cool down to saturation point at night.

        However, if you were to forcefully & monumentally keep misting the air 24/7 above the Straits of Malacca, you might just be able to attain 100% relative humidity at some point, whereupon wet haze transitions into fog.

        However, you do not want to create fog under such polluted conditions because what you obtain is acid fog, whose larger water droplets not only contain smoke particulate nuclei, but also incorporate various toxic gaseous contaminants created by the forest fires, eg. sulphuric acid, nitric acid, mercury, alkaloids, etc.

        In terms of the severity of negative health & environmental effects, acid fog is worse than wet haze. Acid fog not only threatens human, fauna & flora health, but also contributes to corrosion of susceptible infrastructure (eg. steel, marble, limestone, concrete, etc.)

      • 20 yawningbread 23 June 2013 at 00:55

        OK, I think I get what you’re saying, and I appreciate the in-depth discussion you’re bringing to this. You’re saying, if I may paraphrase you, that virtually any kind of misting at low altitude will make things worse. But there remains a possibility that misting at high altitudes may just work, being akin to cloud-seeding. Did I get that right?

      • 21 D 23 June 2013 at 21:43

        I find Pat’s responses quite difficult. Some reason this why a fine mist will make this worse … some reason that why a coarse mist will make things worse… etc etc. It is easy to find reasons not to try things. It is much harder to actually innovate and find a creative solution to a problem. Well done to Alex for suggesting something.

        Is it really, honestly, completely not possible to create “artificial rain” by spraying water at an altitude of a few kms? I find it hard to believe that there is not a workable implementation in this somewhere. Just a matter of details. While I have my own seperate concerns around this plan I think there is no reason not to consider it. It must be possible – broadly speaking – to clean particles out of the air using water droplets of some diameter … mustn’t it?

      • 22 Selwyn 26 June 2013 at 13:45

        Pat, are you talking about the expansion of hygroscopic aerosols (which you seem to be until paragraph 6), or the action of aerosols as condensation nuclei (which you seem to be in the next paragraph)?

        (1) Given that the fire emissions aerosols have already travelled across the sea (at low level), my guess is that the hygroscopic portion of the aerosol would have absorbed as much water as it can already, and that additional misting would not have a major effect. At any rate, it is not clear what the composition of these particular emissions are and how hygroscopic they are…

        (2) The issue of visibly opaque haze in the morning seems to me more of the action of the aerosols as condensation nuclei. These look like actual fogs in the morning caused by water droplets, which the haze particles make worse. At other times when the droplets of “artificial mist” would evaporate (and hence be ineffective at scavenging), such near-ground fog formation is unlikely to happen. Visibility changes should only occur where the misting is being done due to the droplets themselves, before they evaporate, and when the air becomes so artificially saturated that an artificial fog is formed.

  6. 23 sporescores 22 June 2013 at 03:20

    The water curtain can be explored but I think it’s more effective to prosecute polluting companies and their directors.

    • 24 yawningbread 22 June 2013 at 10:35

      What if those companies and directors are not within Singapore jurisdiction? And how does one collect evidence from a foreign jurisdiction to prosecute?

      • 25 sporescores 22 June 2013 at 13:53

        There are international agreements on dealing with cross jurisdiction issues. And Singapore has to collect evidence from Indonesia, which is why I agree with you that the Singapore government should have acted on this when the haze first surfaced 2 decades ago and not ask the Indonesia government about the companies only this week.

  7. 26 Jhontan 22 June 2013 at 05:56

    Does the government charge 7% GST on the sale of the N95 masks? If so, then the government is also profiteering from the misery suffered by all Singaporeans. The more money spent on the masks the greater the government GST collection. With this huge potential to earn extra money perhaps the government is not so interested in getting the problem solved, as they would otherwise lose this potential revenue.

  8. 27 Rin 22 June 2013 at 07:16

    Please, the news about 9m masks would be restocked on Thursday evening at all major supermarkets and pharmacies is a lie. I went to Watson’s, Guardian and Cold Storage on Friday morning 9am. Watson’s cashier said they did not receive any stocks on Thursday evening. Guardian still had sold out signs pasted. Cold Storage told me the earliest restock date was next Monday.

    Then on Friday noon, a colleague received an SMS saying that Guardian was selling N95 mask at $5.50 per piece and limited to 2 per person. $5.50 is way above 3M’s maximum RRP of $2.50. If you don’t call it profiteering, I don’t know what it is.

    9m masks for a 5.5m population. Works out to be about 1.6 mask per person. How does that help?

  9. 29 ape@kinjioleaf 22 June 2013 at 08:09

    If you read http://remembersingapore.wordpress.com/2013/06/19/a-hazy-problem-for-40-years/ … well, it’s 4 decades.

    Our government can’t stop the haze but can we can be better prepared for it. My guess is as Alex suggested, economical costs is holding the government back from issuing stop work order.

  10. 30 Teck Soon 22 June 2013 at 08:39

    A good investigative journalist would travel to Indonesia to the fire locales, interview villagers nearby, and find out who or which companies are responsible. But our local media seems mostly to just report the PSI and whatever comments the authorities have to make. With good journalists, we would have more information, and with information about the culprits, we could take decisive action (sanctioning companies so that they can’t do business here, arresting their executives when they transit our airport, or seizing the Singapore assets of any polluters). Where are our investigative journalists?

  11. 33 mike 22 June 2013 at 08:44

    But also, what about political measures? I’ve come across comments in other blogs, along the lines that there is a certain amount of a ransom situation going on: because we do not co-operate on extradition/freezing funds of corrupt Indonesians who use the banking services here, there is little political will on their side to enact laws or ensure fires are not started in the first place. The El Niño may have exacerbated the conditions, but there is no consideration at all for alternatives to setting fires to clear plantations because they do not see us as worthy of concern.

  12. 34 Lye Khuen Way 22 June 2013 at 09:46

    The reactions so far by the coverment is pathetic. And we had the SARS experience 10 years ago ! Distribtion of “stockpiled N95″ must have been one BIG cockup. No price control, only some noise from CASE, as usual.

    The PM ‘s 2nd hand joke in Washington DC about Beijing has backfired. The Chinese Government must be rubbing their hands gleefully, no ?

    By the way, the suggestions abut using airships is not too outlandish. Wonder if our paid scholars in All the agencies had any similar or better ideas.

    • 35 Teck Soon 27 June 2013 at 23:30

      Even if they had ideas, it doesn’t appear as if funding research into air quality has been a priority. I browsed some websites of local research institutes and grantors and could not find anything noteworthy. The government sets the research agenda through funding prioritisation; scientists should not be blamed for not carrying out research tasks that are not encouraged. How many ministers have a background in science?

  13. 36 Leslie 22 June 2013 at 09:51

    Yes, I thought we should be able to do something, though I don’t have any practical solution. But I had *imagined* we could install giant fans.

    This government is obsessed with fixing the opposition – look at the unnecessary crap that is being generated by the hawker centres’ cleaning issue. Had such things happened in PAP wards, I’m darn sure you would never get this kind of shit – making such a big hoo ha out of something so fucking trivial.

  14. 37 Thor 22 June 2013 at 10:06

    I am truly tired of this governments calibrated and money faced approach to everything. Free masks for the poor (who is that), free medical care for only the young and old, baby bonus only for the second child, free concession for early rides only when you exit at 16 stations, the list goes on. I am sure netizens can compile a more comprehensive list. The only time they are generous is it seems with the influx of foreigners or awarding scholarships to foreigners. For this government there is no rainy day wet enough. Sigh, does it feel like we are one of the wealthiest nations in the world?

    • 38 Watch us 23 June 2013 at 00:34

      Case in point: SMRT gives a generous 10 cent discount (total) for six train rides on the single trip ticket. The single trip tickets are already much more expensive than the ez link card.

  15. 39 Duh 22 June 2013 at 10:12

    The bedrock of Singapore’s economic progress is the exploitation of cheap workers (foreign and local) with a neutered labour union.

  16. 40 Ace 22 June 2013 at 10:26

    Was shortage of N95 mask due to the fact that first option was given to civil servants to buy. Rumor has it that these people were allowed to buy 6 each.

  17. 41 Of Mice and Men 22 June 2013 at 11:11

    It is disappointing to see the Government so clueless, despite its efforts at “scenario” planning. I hate to imagine how Singapore will survive a sudden catastrophe, like a tsunami for example, where the lead time for a response could be measured in hours.

    Perhaps the reluctance by the Government in declaring “stop-work” or Force Majeure is its concern over Singapore’s international reputation as a “safe haven” – where everything in Singapore is perceived as a straight line – no blips, no dips and no back-flips.

    Is it a lack of courage to do the right thing?
    Is it a lack of clarity over what the ‘right’ thing is?
    Or is it a lack of skills to do the right thing?

  18. 42 Teresa 22 June 2013 at 11:32

    I’m not normally so critical of the government, I consider myself a rational voter that’s out to be wooed with good policies. But their incompetence this time around is appalling. My company, along with some 200 others, ordered all its staff to go home – and this is an office-based job.

    As I walked through the smog to get to the train station, I saw construction still going on. I thought it was just plain cruel.

    The cries that we can’t do anything over here is silly. What I think we can do is this: Check which companies are operating here in Singapore – whether it’s Singapore-owned or not doesn’t matter. As long as it has a physical presence here, they should be fined, or made to pay a hefty environmental tax.

    Secondly (and this is really drastic), I’m pretty sure the Indonesian land-owning class and tycoons have their assets parked here. We have them by the balls, and yet we don’t even know we can squeeze it.

    • 43 Wong 22 June 2013 at 21:59

      Have your eyes only been opened now to the fact that this government values (its) money above everything else?

      • 44 Teresa 23 June 2013 at 21:44

        No Wong, we all have our political convictions. I just do not have an allegiance yet, and am not as harsh as other people. I live in Tanjong Pagar GRC, I did not have the chance to vote during the GE.

    • 45 xavi 23 June 2013 at 03:20

      the two companies mentioned by Indonesia are owned by Indonesians living here. one of them apparently bought a $53MILLION property here….

      http://everythingalsocomplain.com/2013/06/21/sinar-mas-and-april-blamed-for-haze/

      • 46 Teresa 23 June 2013 at 21:46

        Thank you Xavi for the link. Then that’s the perfect example of having their companies fined and taxed and their bank accounts frozen. In fact, I’m all for going further and jailing them for causing nothing short of environmental terrorism.

        Won’t be holding my breath for political will to mete out such a drastic punishment though. Hah.

  19. 47 Robert 22 June 2013 at 12:45

    As the situation is getting worst and worst each day, N95 and air purifiers are running out of stock, many young kids and old people are badly affected now, I want to know, why there was no early warning to all Singaporean since the haze need to take at least 4-5 days travelling from Indonesia to Singapore based on the wind speed ? I thought our NEA is monitoring this annual haze crisis with hi-tech satellite images regularly ? Someone is definitely not doing their job diligently causing us in this worst crisis without any solution in sight…

  20. 48 henry 22 June 2013 at 13:35

    Farmers and plantation owners can be rewarded if they can demonstrate that no fires was lit for the whole year.

    Fires larger than 50 sq meters will not be rewarded
    No fires will receive monetary rewards or subsidised farm, plantation rebates in taxes or cooking oil, benzine.
    Farmers, plantation owners will have to provide evidence of no fires on their properties on a monthly basis. Drones can be used to verify.

    Meanwhile, all offices, buildings, schools, trains, buses here should design filtering systems such as HEPA filters into air conditioners or purifiers.
    We will have to foot the costs. Its our health not theirs.

  21. 49 Tackling the root of the problem 22 June 2013 at 14:16

    Perhaps we could use the money to tackle the root of the problem instead of spending on post measures as suggested.

    The plantation owners are using the cheaper slash & burn method at the expense of pollution. Indonesia has difficulties in prosecuting the culprits as the plantation owners are likely bribing the officials. Maybe Singapore (& Malaysia too) should jointly contribute with Indonesia to a fund to pay for the higher non-burn and pollution free method. With Indonesia contributing to this fund, they will be more diligent in enforcing the rules with stiff penalties for non-compliance such as confiscation of land, etc

    • 50 yawningbread 22 June 2013 at 17:05

      I start with a much less sanguine view than you. I assume that the Indonesians cannot get effective governance onto the ground. As recent reports have said, there is so much corruption that even protected forests are now being cleared for agriculture. Contributing to a fund is just asking for more theft of money. I think Singapore will simply have to look after itself and not hope for the Indonesians to do anything substantial or long term.

      • 51 Tackling the root of the problem 22 June 2013 at 22:27

        To prevent funds going into the wrong hands, various measures can be put in place such as the setting up of an independent joint monitoring agency responsible for disbursement of funds, ground & satellite checks, etc. The key issue is whether Indonesia is agreeable to the establishment of such an independent monitoring agency which should be effective in fighting corruption.

  22. 52 TAP 22 June 2013 at 17:00

    Singapore is one the richest countries in the world and also the richest country in Southeast Asia. Piles of money is spent on defence every year, but not on ‘environmental defence’. Spare some money to purchase a few wildfire fighting equipment to help Indonesia to put out the fires. I remember a precendence – SAF sent some troops to Aceh after the tsunami incident. What is needed is intelligent diplomacy and not antagonising statements. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Aerial_firefighting

    I feel that multinational effort is much more effective, cheaper and simpler than a solo effort like erecting a mist wall.

    • 53 Anon tL1s 22 June 2013 at 23:57

      Please think before you utter. We are ready and offered help but the Indonesia didn’t want our help. The mist war belong to science fiction.

  23. 54 jonno 22 June 2013 at 17:04

    The CLEAR irony over the haze issue over Singapore are as follows:-

    1. Money concerns takes precedence over citizens’ health issues. Despite the hazardous atmosphere, the reluctance to issue stop work orders shows how little concern authorities have over human lives. Secondly, the distribution of N95 face mask via commercial enterprises like pharmacies shows how ingrained. “money over health” matters the govt has become. It should have been speedily and efficiently distributed over community centers, poly clinics and public institutions. It also shows how unconcern the govt is over a national crisis like haze which affects everyone in Singapore including the govt. A national PR disaster if there was ever one! AND S’PORE WANT TO HAVE 6.9 MILLION PEOPLE BY YEAR 2030.

    2. Domestic tight control over such things as internet websites does not transfer well over to international dealings with other sovereign countries. All it shows is S’pore govt is a domestic BIG BULLY (ROAR!) but a timid mouse (squeak, squeak!) abroad. A certain minister who is fond of initiating civil suits against critics, said, “If it was WITHIN OUR CONTROL we will never allow this to happen. My point to Singaporeans is we will continue to do our best, please understand the LIMITATIONS OF international relationships and FOREIGN POLICY and the fact that every country is sovereign and we have LIMITED CONTROL OVER what happens in INDONESIA.”

    3. Claims of good governance with high ministerial pay does not resonate well with perceived impotence, defeatist frame of mind and a lack of preparedness in handling important crisis matters head-on. [...In 2002, the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) signed an agreement, committing to tackle the haze. But 11 years on, Indonesia has yet to ratify this agreement.] A PERIOD OF 11 YEARS HAVE ELAPSED YET INDONESIA REFUSES TO RATIFY – What does it tell you? Shouldn’t the S’pore govt look at other alternative measures while waiting for Indonesia to ratify? One conclusion: ASLEEP AT THE WHEEL.

    4. I’d often chuckled at NUS & NTU being accredited with “Top 10 best Asian uni”, blah blah blah! If an ordinary citizen like Alex Au can come up with a rudimentary solution to the haze, WHAT ARE THE ACADEMICS DOING? Sex for grades? All those academic brains concentrated only in the groin area? I’m surprised that the S’pore govt, NUS or NTU have not focused on the yearly phenonmena that is HAZE all these years and come up with some recommendations or solutions. Another conclusion: NUS & NTU DEGREES ARE NO BETTER THAN TOILET PAPER! Not dissing on NUS/NTU graduates but look at the big picture – is your uni doing something real to help the world or is it just a paper credential issuing place. Haze is non-discriminatory – it affects graduates and non-graduates. All those govt talk about meritocracy & elitism being good for S’pore society – just rubbish talk! If all that great intelligence in S’pore cannot even resolve an annual re-occuring simple event like haze – how do you define “intelligence”?

    Cheers!

    • 55 Teck Soon 27 June 2013 at 23:42

      The academics are doing precisely what they are being paid to do: concentrate on research that the government prioritizes through its funding agencies controlled by ministries. Our ministers bear ultimate responsibility, not our academics. And it’s not at all clear to me that an academic solution to the haze is the best use of public funds – I think a political solution would be much better.

  24. 56 Angeline Lee 22 June 2013 at 21:30

    Helium is a rare gas that is also used in the hospitals for treatment of respiratory ailments. http://suite101.com/article/medical-uses-of-helium-a188726
    At the rate we use helium for party balloons, it is estimated that the gas will run out in 20 years time.

  25. 57 frustrated 22 June 2013 at 21:47

    the solution is…..keep us ignorant of the actual psi levels so we think all is fine…24 hour average will be sufficient. nevermind if for 3 hours the levels are as high as >400…what we dont know of, we cant complain, and all is well again

  26. 58 Silver agri 22 June 2013 at 23:01

    Far cheaper and sustainable to buy up the land in Riau and preserve them as jungles or run them as sustainable farms and plantations.

  27. 59 Good Grief 22 June 2013 at 23:25

    Please watch 0.32sec, I like to know which “smart” construction company let their outdoor workers do exercise with their mask on, under a PSI 401 index!! Are we supposed to feel better?

  28. 60 peter leong 22 June 2013 at 23:29

    so simple just get nea to take a leaf out of mda’s books and put a law in place (without going through parliment) say any individual/company/country doing anything that affects singapore air water nature etc must pay fine or jail. maybe yacob can teach vivian.

  29. 61 Watch us 23 June 2013 at 00:31

    The airship solution is many times costlier than the tried and true solution of using aircraft dump seawater on the fires and extinguish them once and for all, as practiced by many nations, if only Indonesia let us do it. Indonesia is being an obstructionist Pain In Gut.

    • 62 D 23 June 2013 at 18:15

      One of the big problems is Singapore hasn’t made any meaningful public offer to help. Also Singapore doesnt appear to have firefighting planes. A mistake on both counts.

      While SG often says there is an offer to help on the table, the details are almost never spelled out. One report in ST was an offer to share satellite imagery and hot spot location data. But this information comes from a US NOAA satellite and is already publicly available. So what is Singapore offering? Until I see LHL on TV saying we have firefighters and pumping equipment ready to go, waiting for the OK from Indonesia, I can’t take it seriously. And while SG doesn’t have firefighting planes, converting a C-130 for the purpose should be easy. Furthermore, given the proximity of the fires to the ocean, smaller fire fighting planes which scoop up sea water would be invaluable. SG should have this capability too.

      Indonesian president has ordered the fires to be extinguished within one month. SG should help to achieve this, with concrete, meaningful public offers to assit specifically with firefighting. It might be hard, but it is the only way to solve the problem in the short term – this season

  30. 63 Watch us 23 June 2013 at 04:03

    The haze has been annual for twenty years. If the government could not foresee a high PSI scenario- and this is only the second worst season in history- it is guily of gross oversight.

    If contracts and project schedules are disrupted by the haze, it is because the government has failed to encourage the nation to consider the reality of an annual occurrence. The haze is no different from a flood, heat wave or natural disaster in consideration of the total impact on health and the economy. Properly accounted for, disruption to contracts and projects would be cheap compared to individual healthcare costs which are unquantified, potentially lifelong and which citizens are left to face alone.

    The government is zealous in policing everything from water consumption to dog ownership- areas where its interests are concerned. From expensive and cramped public housing to public transportation and now the haze, citizens pay the costs of its indifference.

    It shows that our expensive and capable civil service are efficient, but are merely instruments of the top leedership who make all the decisions. They are incentivised to perform to measures and not to results. In cases where the top leedership is disdainful of suggestions from outside, all the wondrous talents of our civil service are for nought. This is why the civil service has acted with an impotent and reactive attitude towards population and infrastructure issues of the government’s own making. Unfortunately, the government cannot be removed due to the electoral system and engineering of the electorate to perpetuate the government’s stay in power.

    This goes way beyond the government’s failure to provide free masks and its failure to ensure its own stockpile is a source of profit to private retailers.

  31. 64 dolphin81 23 June 2013 at 09:56

    Since SG cant tell ID what to do, there is a limit to what PAP can do.

    What really makes PAP look stupid is that for the past 15 years, PAP-MSM has been hinting that more foreign talents in SG can increase SG diplomatic bargaining position abroad.

    Despite this hint, no SG prominent diplomat has ever stated this position.

    The haze incident has shown that the dream of foreign talents helping to increase SG diplomatic power is a dud.

  32. 65 Dominic 23 June 2013 at 10:49

    Why not just build a glass dome covering Singapore? We can then control the weather and temperature. Not only during the haze period but throughout the year. Controlled rainfall as and when we desire with a cool controlled temperature of about 24-25C throughout the day. Homes, malls and offices do not need to have their own air condition units.

  33. 66 fedup 23 June 2013 at 15:24

    Perhaps it would be more effective to put the directors of APP, etc on trail for environmental terrorism, since they’re based in Singapore? APP’s parent company, Sinar Mas, seems to be pretty comfortable in Singapore, investing in prestige projects like the ‘renovation’ of Capitol cinema. I wonder if they gave their workers N95 masks while toiling in the haze?

  34. 67 George Lam 23 June 2013 at 16:37

    Indulgent and fanciful wishful daydreaming is just that – hazy distraction on a hazy day. No, IMO, the real solutions are not up there in the air. No scifi genre super aerosol or super water curtain could be equal to the challenge that the forest fire smoke poses in terms of scale, sustainability, the logistics and cost. Have you heard of any one trying to control the smoke and ashes
    from a volcanic eruption, which is a natural phenomenon?

    The Indonesian forest fire is man made or artificial, in contrast. So a solution that is ‘man made’, should be possible for a man made problem. The solution is actually more down to earth, it lies in nipping the problem in the bud. As I understand it from news reports, the culprits belong to two groups – the subsistence (?) farmers and the big corporate plantation owners. To my mind the focus should be on HELPING the farmers group, therein lies the solution, since the plantation owners can be relatively ‘easy’ to reign in, at least in theory, by the respective govts, an inkling of which we are apparently right witnessing now.

    Looking at the impressive economic losses suffered in past hazy episodes – by the double digits millions and rising – it makes sense (common and economic) for all the countries concerned in the region to go all out to help the farmers clear their land for their small holding and crops. Given the low cost of living where these farmers are, the money contributed by the affected countries like Singapore and Malaysia can go a very long way in getting the job done there and mission accomplished. A collateral benefit would be the creation of jobs and gainful employment for the locals who can certainly do with the extra income and work generated by such help projects – I recall a press report which quoted an Indonesian villager, though a victim of the haze himself, was only too glad to be enlisted to help control the fire and being paid for it!

    The bottom line is you need a very strong implementation structure and organization, political will, commitment and cooperation within the ASEAN community of govts involved, cutting through the red tapes and politics, be it international or local. In other words, we need continual positive ‘pro-action’ and enlightened self-interest, and not finger pointing reaction when the ‘smoke gets in your eyes’ and lungs!!!

    The right question should not be whether Indonesia should apologise to Singapore and Malaysia, but rather, would you rather blow out a lighted match or fight the bush fire that it would ignite?

  35. 68 Anon EVn7 24 June 2013 at 12:18

    blah blah …all this who is going to finance this ….tax payer s?

  36. 70 bb 24 June 2013 at 21:55

    Alex, there’s a worldwide storage of helium and it is needed for medical treatments. Use something else please.

  37. 71 Rabbit 25 June 2013 at 00:29

    While working on the above long term plan, we can provide immediate solution by using the current available infrastructures such as tall buildings and roof-top water tank. I suggest having a misting machines ,on every rooftops, that spray fine vapor at 50m distance to weigh down any dangerous particles that brought with the haze. It may not eradicate the haze problems but will help cool the surroundings with every building being activated like those rooftop speaker that scream SCDF siren. Now that the haze is gone, we have to face other problems like extremely hot weather due to climate change and Singapore tall buildings are not helping to cool our cramped land. Might as capitalized on those tall walls instead. Where are all the million dollars ministers’ brains, still busy chasing mosquito and pushing responsbility or fixing opposition until it blows out of proportion and than forgot about setting priority in current problems? Such a small island with nearly 100 ministers and mini-ministers are not putting their brains to work and seems to talk more than actions and than leave us wondering which is more costly to Singaporeans, When PM said let’s move on and live life as per normal and embrace the haze for the next couple months, it sounds too lazy to do anything about it. On the same note, I hope MSM, NEA and Vivian Balakrisnan can also learn to move on from the Eunos Hawker center’s saga which posed no harm to the public. Gosh!

    • 72 yawningbread 29 June 2013 at 12:28

      I was thinking about writing about this too. Use our tall buildings to advantage. Perhaps we don’t need to clean the entire atmosphere over us, but just the lower layers where we live and breathe.

      What stopped me was the question of where we’d get all the water from. We can’t use sea water overland; it will badly pollute our water supplies and the salt will accelerate corrosion everywhere.

  38. 73 Selwyn 25 June 2013 at 21:24

    I am quite surprised to see you write that there is an El Nino. We are currently in a neutral phase and there are no signs of an El Nino. What is your source?


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