It’s that time of the year again, as the winds blow, a cloud of acrid smoke follows – settling in our hair, clothes and blurring the beautiful skyline of Singapore.
For the uninitiated to this annual “celebration”, the smoke comes from raging, unmitigated fires from parts of Indonesia such as Sumatra and Kalimantan. There, farmers, unable to afford proper land clearing methods, resort to setting large parcels of land ablaze. This method of clearing land for new crops is called “slash and burn”. While quick and affordable, it is highly environmentally unfriendly as it usually results in uncontrollable fires that rage throughout the dry season, sending a toxic haze spreading throughout Southeast Asia.
Aside from ruining the scenery, the haze can cause some serious health problems.
How the haze can affect your health
The part of haze that actually affects our health is particulate matter (PM) – specifically PM 2.5. These are fine particles that are 2.5 microns or less in width that cause that unbearable smog. Aside from haze, they also come from tobacco smoke, cooking smoke, burning candles and more.
These micro particles can cause eye, nose, throat and lung irritation, leading to coughing, sneezing and shortness of breath. It is especially harmful for those with existing heart and lung conditions, and can even develop into diseases such as asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease or heart failure. Young children, whose immune systems haven’t fully developed, should take extra care as these minute particles can lead to allergies and medical conditions such as asthma.
(Photo: Under the Angsana Tree via Mothership.sg)
Protecting your family from the haze
Thankfully, haze in Singapore occurs perhaps just once or twice a year. When that happens, it’s time to buckle down and take all preventive measures to keep your family healthy. Here’s how:
Be aware of the air quality updates
Haze.gov.sg offers hourly updates on the country’s PSI levels. A PSI value of 0 – 100 means it’s still alright to move about outdoors, anything above is cause for staying indoors. In fact, school closes once PSI values hit 300.
There are also apps to keep you updated such as Haze.SG and Haze@SG that is marked by an adorable merlion who begins to cough as air quality conditions worsen.
Move all activities indoors. Yes, that includes exercising. Besides, with PM 2.5 swirling in the air, any deep breaths you might take during your exercise could get you sick instead of fit. Take your deep breaths and lunges indoors and more importantly, close all doors and windows tight. You’re trying to keep the bad air out, and an open window won’t help. If your child is extra sensitive, keep all air out by stuffing cloth under large gaps.
Turn on air purifiers and air-conditioning
These will make a big difference in the air quality around you. While not the most environmentally friendly option, using an air-conditioner is more effective than a fan as the former recycles the air, deodorizing and purifying it at the same time. Fans, on the other hand, simply circulate air. Air purifiers, designed specifically to fliter the unneccessary and unhealthy particles from the air through HEPA filters, work just as well to keep your air clean – except you’ll find it a bit stuffy as, unlike air-conditioners, it doesn’t produce cool air. You could go for bladeless fans though, technological advances have turned these fans into air purifiers too, take the Dyson Pure Cool Link for example:
This bladeless fan (featured image above) is equipped with HEPA filters to keep 2.5 PM away from your home.
(Image used with permission from WardrobeTrendsFashion)
Wear an N95 mask
Paper masks from Daiso simply won’t cut it. You’re looking after respiratory masks that offer protection against 2.5 PM. These are usually available at most pharmacies and supermarkets. Schools should hand them out too! Yes, they might be uncomfortable, but they play a huge part in keeping your lungs healthy!
Stay hydrated and eat well
With an uncontrollable situation like haze raging outdoors, the best you can do is to keep you and your family’s immune system strong and ready to take on any germs. Drink plenty of water to flush out the toxins and sooth your throat. Eat plenty of fruits and vegetables to boost your vitamin intake too.
Long-term prevention: support companies that use sustainable products
The haze comes from a majority of fires set by farmers working for companies that produce unsustainable palm oil and paper products. By reducing your use of such products and being mindful of the products you purchase, you can prevent haze from even beginning.
Look for paper products with the Forests For All Forever logo – Kleenex is a company that supports this. Also support sustainable palm oil products, you can find a list of that here.