Tuesday, October 27, 2015

PM Lee addressed as Brother ?

On Mon night, the news on TV covered PM Lee's speech at NTUC National Delegates Conference. I was confused to see the large welcome banner behind him addressing him as 'Brother Lee Hsien Loong'.  Why the religious sounding address ?  The common practice is to address him as PM.

I think whoever is in-charge should be mindful to separate their religious belief from public sphere. As it is, we know being human it is hard to do so.  But public servants, politicians, MPs, Ministers....who have influence over our social policies should be cautious and consciously do so.

It is very uncomfortable to have such strong openly religious link address in public forum directed at PM.  PM should lead by example and stop such nonsense.

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Haze reading on 19 Oct 15 night shows NEA reporting needs to improve

I happened to check the NEA haze reporting site on 19 Oct 15, Mon at 10pm.  I was shocked to note that the 1 hr average PM2.5 reading was 442 microgram per cubic meter for West Spore, which was worst hit by haze that night. (it hit 471 at 11 pm).

I noted down the various reporting on NEA as there is a wide variation in the data range.  These readings are all from NEA site as at 10pm on 19/10/15 :-

* 24 hrs average PM2.5 = 89 microgram per cubic meter, which translated to 138 PSI
* 3 hrs average = 152 PSI
* 1 hr average PM2.5 = 442 microgram per cubic meter.
NEA does not translate 1hr PM2.5 into PSI

I looked at the real time reporting on Aqicn website and it was 214 PSI.

We can see that the NEA averaged 24 hrs and 3 hrs data do not  reflect that the current situation and there is a wide margin between them and Aqicn real time reading.

Officially, based on NEA averaged 24 hrs data - it was in the unhealthy range only.

However, Aqicn real time reflected that it was at very unhealthy range.

As for NEA data given in microgram per cubic meter, most folks are not familiar with the unit of measurement and its associate level of health advisory is also not widely known to public.

Officially, our health advisory is only link to 24 hrs average PSI.
Just like 3hrs PSI reading, NEA 1 hr PM2.5 is not link to health advisory.

NEA/MOH Reference

Index Category           PSI            24hrPM2.5 in microgram per cubic meter
Good                           0-50          0-12
Moderate                   51-100      13-55
Unhealthy                101-200    56-150
Very Unhealthy        201-300     151-250
Hazardous             above 301     above 251

Knowing that the real time data will be higher than the NEA 1hr average which at 442-471 is pretty alarming given that the unhealthy range is 56 microgram per cubic meter. Since there is no health advisory for 1 hrs, the sensible safety approach is to adopt the 24 hrs health advisory. 

US EPA adopts 35 microgram per cubic meter for 24 hrs PM2.5 which is a more stringent standard than S'pore.

In conclusion, it is obvious that NEA needs to improve their method of reporting which is currently confusing and yet does not reflect the current situation. NEA 24 hrs PSI healthy advisory only tells us if we have been exposed, what has been our exposure level. BUT it does not tell us what will be our real time exposure for us to be proactive in taking safety precautions.

What is the point of giving 3 hrs average when it neither reflect current situation nor is it link to health advisory? 1 hr average PM2.5 better reflects the current situation but it is also not link to health advisory. Besides, public are not familiar with its unit of measurement.

- NEA should educate the public on it just like they do with PSI health index category.
- Provide the microgram per cubic meter table next to the PSI health index table (we have to dig it up as not easily accessible)
- Provide public with real time 1 hour PM2.5 data (without averaging it down)
- Convert it to PSI reading (to minimise public confusion)
- Remove the 3 hrs averaged PSI data as it is useless

Monday, October 12, 2015

NEA please get your priority right!

No one is disputing that NEA continues to use the 24 hr averaged PSI for their health advisory.  However, in order that the public to make informed decision to minimize exposure (use of N95mask or remain indoor), we need realistic data to do so. We are talking about proactive measure to safe guard our health.  Why do NEA not get it?

We agree that public should not base on visibility nor smell to determine how bad the haze is, as humidity and other factors affect it. But neither can the public base on the past 24 hrs historical averaged data, as it does NOT reflect the current situation! It is precisely for this reason that the public took to guessing by using visual and odor check. Get it NEA?

That is why we are asking for instant cast data. Since NEA has now included the 1 hr PM2.5 data, they should give it to us without averaging it down. Why must NEA insists on averaging all their data, be it 24, 3 or 1 hr reading?

Safety and health data for public consumption should be simple and easy to understand. However, NEA is making it into a web of complication which only confuses the public.

Not only we have reading base on different hours (24, 3 and 1) we have different unit of measurement! So 24 and 3 hrs are base on PSI, while 1 hr PM2.5 uses microgram per cubic meter The public is used to PSI reading, they are unfamiliar with microgram per cubic meter.  They may think the reference point for unhealthy / hazardous level is the same. They are NOT.

* For 24 & 3 hrs PSI reading, the unhealthy range is above 100 PSI.
* For 1hr PM2.5 the unhealthy range is from 56 microgram per cubic meter.

US EPA (environmental protection agency) gives the 24hr reading for PM2.5 to be equal or less than 35 microgram per cubic meter. Their annual limit for PM2.5 is 15 microgram per cubic meter. These limits are based over 3 years period.

Since we have been expose to the haze for decades and NEA has been collecting data, can NEA let us know if our 24 hours and annual exposure has exceeded EPA recommendation?

The very fact that 90% of the public do not use protective mask even during days of terrible haze is a reflection of how low is our public safety awareness of the hazardous nature of PM2.5 which is link to lung cancer risk besides other health problems. NEA and MOH should be concerned that a developed country like S'pore, our public safety and health awareness is same as those of 3rd world nations.

NEA please get your priority right.  Public safety and health is number one. Making the data looks better should never be your focus!

Note : NEA may wish to consider removing their 3hrs averaged PSI reading as it neither reflects the current situation nor can it be used as health advisory. It was introduced in 1997 as 'stop-gap' measure to provide reading closer to current haze situation, since NEA did not wish to provide instant cast data. After 18 yrs, we are still stuck in the same situation!

Sunday, October 4, 2015

NEA Director's reply confusing public and not addressng public concern

NEA Director, Fong P K in his reply to a reader feedback to Voices in Today papers on 3 Oct 15 said that, "The National Environment Agency (NEA) is providing hourly, real-time haze information on our various platforms."

He is confusing the public because even though NEA data tables give the hourly reading, these readings are NOT real time.

On NEA website it is clearly stated be it the 24 and 3 hours PSI or the 1 hourly PM2.5 reading, they are AVERAGE over 24 or 3 hours.  The 1 hourly reading is also average data.  These 2 statements are from NEA website under their FAQs on PSI :

1) For PM2.5, the new 24-hour PSI reflects the PM2.5 concentration levels averaged across 24 hours. The new 3-hour PSI reflects the PM2.5 concentration levels averaged across 3 hours.

2) The 1-hour PM2.5 concentrations reflect the PM2.5 levels averaged over one hour, and can give you an indication of the current air quality.

So why is NEA Director misleading the public to think they are real time reading? Besides, he did not address the reader's concern which is lack of real time data for the public to make informed decision.

The shortcoming of historical average data is the time delay between when we are hit by unhealthy or hazardous level of haze to the time NEA data does reflect it. It defeats the purpose to have people wearing mask or staying indoor after the high PSI level has passed.  Is this not too late where our safety and health is concern?

For safety best practice in taking precaution, it is real time reading that matters. When evaluating the health concern due to exposure, perhaps the 24 hours PSI reading could be useful. 

NEA is already in possession of real time data, why is NEA so reluctant to share with the public? There have been repeated feedback year after year that we need such data to make informed decision regarding our daily activities during the haze period. 

By down playing* the PSI level, NEA is putting public safety and health at risk. We know PM2.5 can be inhaled into our lungs and could be carcinogenic. Could the public take class action against NEA if there is a high incident of lung cancers in the future due to under reporting* of the PSI level, resulting in public complacency in taking proactive measures to protect ourselves?

*Note : Besides, time delay in critical haze occurrence, the averaging of data by NEA has resulted in much lower level of PSI when compare to real time reading.
For real time data on PSI please refer to : aqicn.org  - which provides real time air pollution information for more than 60 countries in the world


Friday, September 25, 2015

NEA psi reading is historical averaged out data

I am not sure if I heard it correctly when our minister said when interviewed by the media broadcast during the news on 24/9/15 night that if we want hourly reading we can refer to NEA website and not use other sources.

As far as I know, NEA only provide us with processed data base on AVERAGE 24 hours and AVERAGE 3 hours reading.  The heading and the data table in the NEA website could be misleading the public to think it is spot hourly reading - it is NOT.  So is our minister also confused by his own agency website ?

The NEA data table heading does not have the word 'average' in it. It only says :

PSI Readings over the last 24 hours and 3-hr PSI Reading. It then go on to list the reading at 1am, 2am, 3am....etc.  Link to -  nea data table

It is in other area on NEA site that we find information on how the their psi reading is derived and the formula use.  Quote from NEA website :

For PM2.5, the new 24-hour PSI reflects the PM2.5 concentration levels averaged across 24 hours. The new 3-hour PSI reflects the PM2.5 concentration levels averaged across 3 hours

So it means if the 24 hrs reading at 1 am states it is 200 psi, it is average reading from 1 am yesterday to 1 am today. If it is 3 hrs average at 6 pm, it means the reading is average from 3 to 6pm.

There have been public feedback for years that NEA should provide us with hourly spot reading. Real time data is more useful and safer than past historical averaged data in making decision.  For example, if the school has a basket ball game that day at 10 am, real time data can help decide if the event can continue without compromising on students health. Besides due to averaging effect, the time NEA reading says we are hit by hazardous range is normally delay by 1 or more hours.

For nation wide decision like school closure, perhaps the more stable 24 hours averaged out historical data can be used.

Besides, historical averaged 24 hrs and 3 hrs readings are always much lower at the start of the haze compare to spot reading. The difference can be as much as 30 or more psi. It is only when the haze continues to worsen for a few days that the NEA historical averaged data move closer to spot reading.

There has been some improvement to the NEA data due to public feedback. It was only in 2012 that PM2.5 particulate was incorporated into NEA 24 hrs psi reporting. For the 3 hrs psi, it was in 2014 that PM2.5 particulate was incorporated.

It has been observed over the years, the PM2.5 reading is normally much higher than PM10. Besides, PM2.5 can be inhaled into the lungs, making it much more hazardous than PM10 which can be filter by our nostril hair.  Thus, it is strange that NEA took so long to make the changes to adopt safety best practices though we have been hit by the haze for decades.

If other countries can provide their citizens with official real time reading, why is our govt so reluctant to do so all these years despite public feedback ?  We need it to make safe informed decision with regards to our daily activities when we are hit by the recurring haze year after year !

If govt wants us to refer to NEA data then provide us what we need - hourly reading. Don't chide the public for turning to other websites if NEA is reluctant to share real time raw information with us. Processed data can be unhealthy for our lungs.