The choking haze enveloping Kuala Lumpur at noon yesterday. Pic by Hafiz Sohaimi

KUALA LUMPUR: THE Department of Environment (DoE) yesterday denied manipulating the Air Pollutant Index (API) readings, but admitted that Malaysia’s measurement of air pollution was different from Singapore’s.

This admission comes after a social media storm on Saturday when people noticed the stark difference in air pollution readings between Malaysia, especially in southern Johor, and Singapore as choking haze blanketed the two countries.

DoE director-general Datuk Halimah Hassan said the government was not watering down the API readings, and that the difference in readings stemmed from Singapore’s inclusion of a sixth parameter in determining the state of air quality.

Malaysia measures five parameters to determine API: carbon monoxide, ozone, nitrogen dioxide and sulfur dioxide and particulate matter (PM10).

Since April last year, Singapore has included a sixth parameter, called fine particulate matter (PM2.5), when calculating its measurement of air quality, called Pollutant Standards Index (PSI).

However, Halimah denied that Malaysia’s API methodology was outdated.

“Malaysia is aware of Singapore adding the PM2.5 matter as the sixth component to calculate PSI readings.

“Our method is not old. It is just that Singapore has included a new component to its readings. We are monitoring and studying its readings,” she told the New Straits Times yesterday.

She said the department was in the final stages of working on the budget to include the sixth component in API calculations, adding that her department would release a statement on the matter today.

Singapore’s National Environment Agency website said that previously, PSI was calculated based on the average of PM10 readings over the last three hours.

Under the new system since April last year, PSI was calculated based on PM2.5 concentration levels, as it was the main pollutant of concern in haze.

Environmental Protection Society Malaysia vice-president Randolph Geremiah said Malaysia should not compare itself with other countries without understanding the different methods used by experts.

“Methods and equipment change very fast in science. But if the situation indicates that it is time to have better equipment, then it is time to have better equipment.”

Randolph said Malaysia should upgrade facilities to measure API, as haze was occurring every year.

Malaysia releases hourly API readings from 52 stations.

Singapore’s PSI readings hit the hazardous range (above 300) on Thursday evening and climbed to 341 at 5am on Friday, while in Johor Baru, API readings were in the unhealthy band of between 139 and 192.

When API readings are in the 101 to 200 band (unhealthy), people are advised to reduce prolonged or strenuous outdoor activities.

Readings of between 201 and 300 are considered very unhealthy, while readings above 300 are considered hazardous.

At noon yesterday, the DoE website listed five areas recording very unhealthy API readings.

Selangor was the worst-hit state, with Shah Alam recording an API of 272, followed by Port Klang (245) and Petaling Jaya (223). The other two areas with very unhealthy readings are Batu Muda in Kuala Lumpur (253) and Putrajaya (207).

By 6pm, the API in these five areas moved to the unhealthy band, with Shah Alam recording an API of 185, followed by Batu Muda (181), Port Klang (179), Petaling Jaya (168) and Putrajaya (165).

Another 15 areas recorded unhealthy API readings at 6pm yesterday.

They are Bukit Rambai (106) and Bandaraya Melaka (104) in Malacca; Nilai (114), Port Dickson (114) and Seremban (131) in Negri Sembilan; Jerantut (115) in Pahang; SK Jalan Pegoh, Ipoh, (115), Seri Manjung (120) and Tanjung Malim (145) in Perak; Kuching (124), Samarahan (142) and Sri Aman (172) in Sarawak; Banting (156) and Kuala Selangor (145) in Selangor; and Cheras (155) here.

The public can visit the website, apims.doe.gov.my, for the API readings.

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