Parliament Q&A

Oral reply by Dr Amy Khor, Senior Minister of State for the Environment and Water Resources, to Parliamentary Questions on Air Pollution on 1 April 2019

Question by Er Dr Lee Bee Wah: To ask the Minister for the Environment and Water Resources (a) whether Singapore has received any updates on the Johor government's efforts to manage their hotspots and, if so, what are these; (b) how can the health and well-being of Singapore's residents be safe-guarded against the long-term exposure to haze pollutants; and (c) whether there are plans to conduct outreach programmes to allay concerns and provide regular updates on the haze situation arising from hotspots in Johor.


Question by Assoc Prof Daniel Goh Pei Siong: To ask the Minister for the Environment and Water Resources (a) what specific sensors are there in place in Punggol to measure the level of volatile organic compounds in the air; and (b) whether there has been an increase in the measured levels since the chemical waste dumping incident in Pasir Gudang.


Answer by Dr Amy Khor:

1     Members of this house would be aware of the environmental pollution incidents in Johor over the last two months.

2     In February, the National Environment Agency (NEA) detected hotspots of fires with smoke plumes in Southern Johor through satellite remote sensing. The Department of Environment (DOE) Johor, subsequently alerted NEA to fires at two landfills in Bandar Tenggara and Tanjong Langsat, as well as a fire at Punggai in the area of an oil palm plantation. The resultant smoke plumes, blown by the prevailing northeasterly winds, affected both Johoreans and Singaporeans with intermittent burning smells over the past few weeks. While most of the fires have been put out, NEA continued to detect hotspots in Southern Johor.

3     NEA monitors the ambient air quality in Singapore through a network of real-time ambient air monitoring sensors across Singapore. These sensors continuously measure the key air pollutants, namely, sulphur dioxide, nitrogen dioxide, carbon monoxide, ozone, particulate matter (both PM2.5 and PM10). The concentrations of these air pollutants are used to compute the Pollutant Standards Index (PSI) over a rolling 24-hour period.

4     Since June 2016, NEA has introduced bands and descriptors for the 1-hour PM2.5 concentrations, as a guide to help the public better assess the current air quality. The 24-hour PSI and the 1-hour PM2.5 readings in the 5 regions of Singapore and corresponding health advisory are available to the public on the NEA website and myEnv mobile application. Members of the public can use the information as a guide to plan their activities. Between early-February and mid-March when the hotspots were detected in Johor, the 24-hour PSI readings remained within the Good to Moderate range, and the 1-hour PM2.5 levels remained in the Normal range.

Illegal Dumping of Chemical Waste into Sungai Kim Kim, Pasir Gudang

5     According to media reports, since 7 March 2019, more than 3,000 Johoreans fell ill as a result of the illegal dumping of around 20 to 40 tonnes of chemical waste into Sungai Kim Kim, a river in Pasir Gudang. Hazardous fumes caused severe symptoms including nausea, shortness of breath and vomiting. Thousands needed immediate medical attention and many were admitted to hospitals for treatment. Some were in critical condition and had to be placed under intensive care. Young and vulnerable children were among the worst affected. The authorities closed all 111 schools in the Pasir Gudang district on 13 March 2019 for more than 2 weeks.

6     Singaporeans watched with deep concern and were saddened by this serious environmental violation, where toxic chemicals were dumped into the river, with little regard for the people who live in the surrounding areas. The chemicals detected in the air samples from Sungai Kim Kim and its vicinity contained chemicals such as benzene which is carcinogenic. The Malaysian media has also reported illegal dumping of chemical waste at other sites in Pasir Gudang.

7     According to the Malaysian authorities, they have cleaned up a 1.5km polluted stretch of Sungai Kim Kim in Pasir Gudang. More than 900 tonnes of soil and 1,500 tonnes of polluted water have been removed. The Malaysian authorities have worked expeditiously to contain the problem, in view of the impact to the environment and to public health. I wish a speedy recovery for all those affected, and in particular the children. Singapore stands ready to provide assistance to the Malaysian authorities if needed.

8     Throughout this period, our agencies have been closely monitoring the situation and putting in place precautionary measures to guard against any potential pollution impacts arising from the illegal dumping of chemical waste. We have not detected any pollution impacts on Singapore’s air and water quality or water supply.

9     NEA continuously monitors the ambient concentration of a variety of Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs) at our air monitoring stations, including at four stations located in the north-eastern region of Singapore. These include benzene, toluene, and xylene, as well as other common VOCs from industrial emissions which are also closely monitored by other environmental agencies such as the United States Environmental Protection Agency (USEPA).

10     NEA has not detected any elevated levels of VOCs. The 24-hour PSI has also been in the Good to Low-Moderate range, while the 1-hour PM2.5 readings remained in the Normal range. The SCDF has also deployed its portable stand-off chemical gas detectors at the northeast region of Singapore to detect toxic chemicals, and has not detected any toxic chemicals in the air.

11     For water quality, NEA’s continuous buoy-based coastal water quality monitoring sensors deployed along the Straits of Johor have not detected any unusual variation in the key physical, chemical, and microbiological water quality parameters. NEA has also taken the additional step of collecting water samples at Pulau Ubin and its vicinity to te11st additional parameters, including compounds Malaysia has identified due to the chemical waste dumped in Sungai Kim Kim. These compounds have not been detected in our water samples. NEA has also not detected any anomalies in the quality of the waters at our recreational coastal beaches.

12     PUB’s online sensors have shown that the water quality of Johor River, our waterways and reservoirs in the north and north-eastern part of Singapore, as well as the water supply is within normal variations. On-site inspections and water quality checks have also shown no abnormalities. As a precautionary measure, PUB has installed oil booms at the outlet drains and estuaries along the north and north-eastern coast of Singapore. This incident has no impact on our water supply as the chemical dumping location is outside of our Johor River catchment area, where part of our water supply comes from.

13     There have been no reports of unusual fish mortality at our local fish farms in the Straits of Johor. Singapore Food Agency (SFA)’s tests of seafood samples from these fish farms for compounds such as polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), VOCs, and heavy metals have not detected any anomalies.

14     Environment pollution is a cross-border issue that requires collaboration between the authorities of both countries. These include the provision of early warnings, and environmental monitoring data and guidelines. NEA and SCDF have been in contact with their respective Malaysian counterparts – DOE Johor and the Johor Fire and Rescue Department (BOMBA) – to obtain regular updates on the situation there.

15     We will continue to monitor the situation and provide updates if there are any significant developments. We will also continue to step up our checks and enforcement, to protect our environment and safeguard the health and safety of Singaporeans.


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