KUALA LUMPUR: Afew more weeks of acrid haze, and Malaysians risk contracting acute and chronic health diseases, which could result in death.
As the thick smog continues to choke the region, health experts are worried the smoke caused by forest fires in Indonesia could pose health problems.
Environmental Health and Research fellow of the United Nations University-International Institute for Global Health (UNU-IIGH), Professor Dr Jamal Hisham Hashim, said a study published by reputable international journal Nature claimed that outdoor air pollution contributed significantly to premature deaths around the globe.
“Health impacts of air pollution are a function of dose as well as duration of exposure to air pollutants.
“We know the dose or level of particulate pollutant has attained hazardous levels of more than 300 in API (Air Pollutant Index) some time ago,” he told the New Straits Times.
According to the study, outdoor air pollution contributes to 3.3 million premature deaths per year globally from stroke (39.7 per cent), heart attack (32.7 per cent), chronic obstructive pulmonary diseases (15.7 per cent), acute lower respiratory infection (seven per cent) and lung cancer (4.9 per cent).
Most of the deaths, Dr Jamal said, were due to the worsening of cardiovascular and respiratory diseases by the fine particle, PM2.5.
“PM2.5 comes mainly from combustion sources like motor vehicles, power plants, incinerators and forest fires.
“PM2.5 of carbonaceous origins, like forest fires and biomass burnings, is believed to be a more potent health hazard than that from other sources.”
The groups most at risk, Jamal added, were the elderly with hypertension and heart diseases, those with respiratory diseases like asthma, chronic bronchitis and emphysema, and children who were physically more active and with immature lungs.
“The effects of the haze are worse on the heart than the lungs, leading to strokes and heart attacks.”
Dr Jamal said the levels of PM2.5 in our atmosphere could not be determined as the system had yet to be put in place.
It was reported recently that Deputy Natural Resources and Environment Minister Datuk Hamim Samuri said the ministry was pushing for all 52 monitoring stations nationwide to include the measurement of PM2.5 as the matter had been outlined in the 11th Malaysia Plan (2016-2020).
However, Hamim said, the move could only take effect in two years. Responding to this, Dr Jamal said the monitoring exercise could be done in stages.
“The best defence against haze is to stay indoors. It is also important to reduce indoor sources of air pollution like smoking, frying and burning of mosquito coils.
“If you must go outside, wear N95 masks,” he said, adding that N95 masks were most effective because they were designed for dusty atmospheres and could filter the air people breathed.
“The normal surgical mask was designed to prevent users from spreading germs, not protecting them from the air outside. However, any kind of mask is better than nothing.”
In Malacca, Health Minister Datuk Seri Dr S. Subramaniam said government hospitals and clinics were ready to provide medical assistance to those suffering from haze-related illnesses.
“The public should avoid outdoor activities, if possible,” he said before opening the state MIC special convention here yesterday.