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27 July 2020
As mid-year rolls around, many of us living in Southeast Asia will know that the time of the haze has come. Dark skies and putrid smoke emerge to cause various environmental and health problems. In recent years, haze situations have increasingly become so severe that schools have to be shut. What causes this? And how can we fight it? Here’s what you need to know.
The haze we see in our skies is caused by tiny particles suspended in the atmosphere. At high concentrations, these particles scatter and absorb sunlight resulting in diminished visibility thereby giving the atmosphere a characteristic darker appearance.
The particles that cause haze originate from multiple sources, some of which are natural and some man made. Natural sources include the ocean, forest and ground surface.
However, most of the particulates are a result of human activities which include open burning, forest fires, land clearing, vehicular emissions and the combustion of fossil fuels due to factory activity.
The haze in our region is mainly attributed to illegal agricultural fires due to industrial-scale slash-and-burn practices that occur regularly, generally between July and October. This is likely because burned land can be sold illegally at a higher price, and eventually used for activities including oil palm and pulpwood production. Burning is also cheaper and faster compared to cutting and clearing using excavators or other machines.
In the short-term, haze can cause irritation of the eyes, nose and throat in healthy individuals. The heart and lungs are particularly affected by particles in haze, raising risks for those with heart or lung conditions.
The long-term risks associated with exposure to fine particles can cause faster rate of thickening of the arteries compared to others, promoting the development of vascular diseases. Haze can also increase the risk of death by cardiovascular disease and reduces life expectancy by several months to a few years.
Vulnerable groups like babies and the elderly are the most at risk. For babies, especially newborns, their respiratory system is susceptible to the poor air quality. Babies could develop asthma or bronchitis if their respiratory system is affected. The haze might also irritate a baby’s nose, throat, airways, skin, eyes and develop skin rashes.
The elderly are greatly affected by the haze as their lungs tend to be weaker. They may experience serious sneezing and coughing conditions. Those with medical conditions such chronic and lung diseases will be greatly affected once the haze reaches critical levels.
The most obvious method and simplest way to deal with haze is to avoid exercising in the open. Cardio intensive activities like running or jogging outdoors will make you breathe deeply, hence you inhale in pollutants deep into your lungs. It is also important to avoid smoking as it makes your lungs more sensitive to the effects of air pollutants.
Staying indoors and keep the air clean:
Stay indoors as much as possible and keep the doors and windows closed. If you have an air conditioner, switch it on and ensure the air filter is clean. The use of suitable particulate air filters (air filters which remove solid particles from the air) within an enclosed area can also help. Air purifiers also work well to help clean the air indoors to keep you and your family safe.
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If outdoors, wear a mask:
If you need to be outdoors, make sure you wear a respirator mask. Respiratory masks, such as N95 masks, are designed to keep out fine particulate matter and hence protect you from breathing in the smoke particles in the air. The mask should be changed when it gets soiled or distorted in shape. Some masks even have expiry dates on them.
A note of caution: surgical masks and paper masks do not provide adequate protection from haze particles. Their main purpose is to prevent the spread of body fluids and do not filter out haze particles.
Alleviating the symptoms:
Haze often irritates the nose, throat, airways, skin and eyes. The common symptoms include sneezing, runny nose, dry throat, cough and eye irritation. Head to a pharmacy and see what you can do about these ailments otherwise a visit to the clinic is advise.
As for irritation to the eyes, apply a few drops of saline solution to act as natural tear supplements. This will help wash away haze compounds or dust particles that get into the eyes.
If you have more severe symptoms like coughing or headache or others, it is recommended that you seek medical attention at a clinic or hospital.
In conclusion, when it comes to fighting the haze, it’s always best to put your safety and health first. However, educating yourself on why this happens is also important so we can develop a society that’s more conscious of the adverse effects of pollution. Together we can encourage the government, companies and individuals to act more responsibly and thus making the planet safer for all.
The above articles are intended for informational purposes only. AIA accepts no responsibility for loss, which may arise from reliance on information contained in the articles.