Sunday 17 November 2013

Suite of measures to improve air quality

WE THANK Mr Alfred Loh Lye Chye ("Engine-idling a major source of PM2.5 pollutant"; Monday), Mr Harpal Singh ("Some ways to reduce engine-idling"), Mr Louis Francis Albert ("Move carparks farther away from flats"; both on Thursday), Mr Eric J. Brooks ("Banning engine-idling would benefit all") and Mr Ken Lai ("Engine-idling: Rigorous enforcement needed"; both Forum Online, Thursday) for their feedback and suggestions to reduce engine-idling.

Like many other major cities, air emissions from local industries and motor vehicles are two major sources of air pollution in Singapore.

We assure the public that the National Environment Agency is implementing a suite of measures in order to improve and enhance our air quality.

In August last year, we announced an air quality road map with new air quality targets which are based on the World Health Organisation's Air Quality Guidelines. These final guidelines for PM2.5 (particulate matter smaller than 2.5 microns) will be Singapore's long-term target.

The road map includes a set of abatement measures, some of which are in the pipeline for implementation.

We also have in place various efforts to mitigate pollution from motor vehicles.

For instance, we have stepped up enforcement against vehicles with idling engines and have taken enforcement action against 2,467 errant drivers last year, and against another 2,631 errant drivers from January to October this year.

As part of outreach efforts to raise public awareness, we regularly engage stakeholders such as the Singapore School & Private Hire Bus Owners' Association, the Singapore School Transport Association, the public transport operators (bus/taxi operators) and the National Association of Travel Agents Singapore to disseminate educational messages and pamphlets to their drivers.

We have also worked with schools, to distribute educational posters and pamphlets to educate and remind parents, as well as private school transport operators, to switch off their vehicle engines while waiting to pick up the school children.

In addition, we work closely with the authorised vehicle inspection centres (Vicom, JIC Inspection Services and STA Inspection) to distribute educational pamphlets to motorists during their mandatory vehicle inspections.

At the same time, we are working with the relevant authorities to install anti-idling engine signage at locations where vehicles are likely to congregate, such as schools, parks and loading/unloading bays.

We encourage the public to call us on 1800-CALL-NEA (1800-2255-632) to report idling engines or e-mail us at

Fong Peng Keong
Pollution Control Department National Environment Agency
ST Forum, 16 Nov 2013

Engine-idling a major source of PM2.5 pollutant

WEDNESDAY'S report ("Tracking of PM2.5 air pollutant to be expanded") said that Singapore's annual mean PM2.5 level has hovered between 16 and 19 micrograms per cubic m over the past six years, which does not meet the World Health Organisation standard of 10 micrograms per cubic m.

Given this, one urgent step which the National Environment Agency (NEA) could take - without having to wait for the expanded air pollution monitoring network to give a better picture of the PM2.5 levels across a wider area - is to increase public awareness of the harmful effects of engine-idling.

This is because engine-idling is a significant source of localised concentrations of PM2.5.

The NEA could work with other government agencies in this aspect.

For example, national water agency PUB could help distribute information leaflets on PM2.5 together with its monthly billing statements sent to households.

According to a report last year ("More complaints about motorists leaving engines on"; Sept 14), the NEA issued advisories over a three-year period to about 6,000 motorists who flouted the rule.

With a vehicular population of about one million and the relative ease with which one can spot errant motorists (whether at a carpark, school zone or elsewhere), the number suggests that greater enforcement of anti-idling laws is absolutely necessary if we are to achieve any meaningful outcome.

The school zone is a particularly vulnerable environment. Just visit any school and you can observe many parents leaving their car engines running while waiting for their children, oblivious to the fact that their actions could bring harm to their children's health.

Studies have also shown that asthma attacks can be triggered almost instantaneously by airborne environmental triggers such as PM2.5 air pollutants.

Yet, these young children are continually exposed to such harmful emissions at close range during school dismissal as they wait to board the bus or for their parents.

The NEA could work with the Land Transport Authority and Traffic Police to promote more orderly vehicular flow to reduce the sources of unnecessary pollution contributors near schools.

Alfred Loh Lye Chye
ST Forum, 11 Nov 2013

Accept, act on certain green facts

IT IS encouraging that the National Environment Agency wants to study the levels of air pollutants like PM2.5 in order to formulate more defined policies to cut pollution ("Tracking of PM2.5 air pollutant to be expanded; Nov 6).

We should not just study things again and again but accept certain facts, which are well known in other countries and proven scientifically, such as the fact that unless you have Euro V diesel engines, you will continue to have a PM2.5 problem.

The other known fact is that compressed natural gas (CNG) is a superior, readily available and affordable solution when it comes to particulate matter emissions from cars and light vehicles.

This does not need more analysis.

Unfortunately, the support for CNG has dropped.

Instead of allowing CNG to grow and contribute to PM2.5 reduction, additional taxes were levied and keen operators were not given land to open more CNG stations.

It would have been easy to install CNG technology on all school buses and thus reduce the exposure of children to particulate matter emission.

This is another example of immediate positive results, rather than studying what we already know are too-high levels of PM2.5.

Alexander Melchers
ST Forum, 16 Nov 2013

Some ways to reduce engine-idling

CHANGING the way we use our cars can go a long way towards helping to reduce PM2.5 pollutants in our environment ("Engine-idling a major source of PM2.5 pollutant" by Mr Alfred Loh Lye Chye; Monday).

At the Canada-United States border, an innovative method is used to minimise pollution from vehicles waiting to cross the border.

On most days, the line of vehicles stretches for more than 1km. When a traffic light, located 100m from the immigration booth, turns red, drivers of vehicles that have not passed this light are required to switch off their engines.

When the queue in front eases, the light turns green, signalling the drivers to start their engines and move forward to fill the gap.

Such a system could be used at the Woodlands Checkpoint to reduce vehicular pollution.

At hospitals, schools, entrances to popular carparks and other public places where waiting in cars is common, the Traffic Police could put up "no engine-idling" signs to educate and remind motorists to do the right thing.

Harpal Singh
ST Forum, 14 Nov 2013

Move carparks farther away from flats

THE Housing Board should take note of the health hazard posed by engine-idling ("Engine-idling a major source of PM2.5 pollutant" by Mr Alfred Loh Lye Chye; Monday).

Currently, some housing estate carparks are built too close to ground-floor flats, sometimes with only a five-foot way separating them.

My ground-floor flat faces parking spaces at the front and back. A sign asking drivers to switch off the engines of their stationary vehicles was put up after I made a complaint, but drivers just ignore the notice. Culprits include parents waiting for their children studying at a nearby kindergarten.

Carparks that are too close to flats should be relocated.

The HDB should look into providing underground carparks. It should spare a thought for residents living in ground-floor units, and not just ensure the convenience of car owners.

Louis Francis Albert
ST Forum, 14 Nov 2013

Banning engine-idling would benefit all

I CONCUR with Mr Alfred Loh Lye Chye ("Engine-idling a major source of PM2.5 pollutant"; Monday).

Both in the daytime and at night, I have observed engines in lorries and vans parked at carparks near where I live left running for up to an hour or longer.

Some drivers leave their engines running while they are making deliveries. Others do so while resting in their vehicles to enjoy the air-conditioning. And all this is happening right next to the open windows of HDB flats.

This does not just pollute the air, but is also a huge waste of energy, which adds to company operating costs.

On more than one occasion, I have reported such incidents to the companies involved. In most cases, they were embarrassed at their employees' behaviour and annoyed at the expenses being incurred.

No one wins from engine-idling. It hurts the bottom lines of companies as much as it harms the health of people.

Legislation and a public awareness campaign would more than pay for themselves through lower company costs and cheaper health bills.

With the exception of ambulances, all engine-idling should be banned within 50m of residential buildings.

Putting an end to this wasteful and inconsiderate practice is a win-win situation for both businesses and residents.

Eric J. Brooks
ST Forum, 14 Nov 2013

Engine-idling: Rigorous enforcement needed

I FULLY support Mr Alfred Loh Lye Chye's proposals to inform and remind motorists that it is an offence to leave their engines running while their vehicles are stationary ("Engine-idling a major source of PM2.5 pollutant"; Monday).

When I politely inform some drivers of this, they became rude and told me to mind my own business.

It would be helpful to have a public campaign about air pollution from vehicle emissions and our social responsibility not to leave our vehicle engines idling.

A special sign with a crossed-out "E" to symbolise a turned-off engine could be displayed prominently in schools, carparks and so on.

The situation has deteriorated over the years as drivers are either ignorant or reckon they will not get caught.

As pointed out by Mr Loh, what we need is rigorous enforcement of the rules. Perhaps allowing the public to report offenders to the relevant authorities would improve the situation.

Ken Lai
ST Forum, 14 Nov 2013

Tracking of PM2.5 air pollutant to be expanded
More data will allow NEA to craft better policies to lower its levels
By David Ee, The Straits Times, 6 Nov 2013

Plans are in place here to more accurately monitor levels of PM2.5, the air pollutant associated with vehicle emissions and the seasonal haze that has blanketed Singapore in the past.

The National Environment Agency (NEA) revealed yesterday that it will expand the country's air pollution monitoring network to give "a better picture" of PM2.5 levels across a wider area.

The aim is to develop better policies to bring down its levels.

PM2.5 is a fine particulate matter less than 2.5 microns in size. Over-exposure to it increases the risk of heart and lung illnesses and can reduce an individual's lifespan.

"Once you have the data, you will have a better sense of the seriousness of the issue," NEA deputy director of pollution control Rohaya Saharom told reporters, on the sidelines of a green transport forum at Traders Hotel.

Documents obtained by The Straits Times reveal that the NEA will add nine more monitoring stations nationwide to the existing 15 by early next year.

The stations monitor round- the-clock PM2.5, on top of the Pollutant Standards Index (PSI), which measures sulphur dioxide, nitrogen dioxide, ozone, carbon monoxide and PM10.

Singapore uses the PSI and not the Air Quality Index used by countries like the United States. The latter specifies PM2.5 concentrations.

The NEA used to publish the annual average PM2.5 readings, but has been reporting it hourly since June, when Singapore was hit by the worst haze in its history.

Ms Saharom said the plan to expand the network was already "in the pipeline" before June.

The agency also wants to study the levels of air pollutants like PM2.5 contributed by sectors such as transport and power generation, said Ms Saharom. Doing so would help the Government formulate "more defined" policies to cut pollution.

The NEA did not reveal a timeline for its plan.

Singapore's annual mean PM2.5 level has hovered between 16 and 19 micrograms per cubic metre (µg/m3) over the past six years, which does not meet the World Health Organisation standard of 10 µg/m3. The NEA aims to cut this to 12 µg/m3 by 2020.

PM2.5 is "clearly the most serious" air pollution concern, said vehicle pollution control expert Michael Walsh. A recent US study found that globally, about 2.1 million deaths annually are caused by over-exposure to it.

Reducing vehicle numbers or improving their emission standards would be the most effective way to reduce PM2.5 levels, especially in urban areas, he added.

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