Singapore– MADAM Pang Moy, 86, died in early October due to a severe lung infection and the hospital she was warded in, Singapore General Hospital (SGH), has said that the infection was not haze-related. Her son-in-law, Mr Kelvin Ong, didnt seem to agree. He told TODAY that Madam Pang had no pre-existing lung conditions. Although she suffered from hypertension and diabetes, she was a healthy woman for her age, he said.
With PSI levels peaking at 321 the day Madam Pang was admitted, was her illness a coincidence, or could the haze actually have been responsible for her lung infection? How did SGH rule that out?
The TODAY report didnt say but that was because SGH did not elaborate in their statement. So, we spoke to three respiratory specialists to see if they could shed some light on the matter: All three said that the haze could not have directly caused the lung infection though, it could have played a contributory role in the infection.
Dr Ong Kian Chung, a respiratory specialist at KC Ong Chest & Medical Clinic, said that there needed to be a distinction between a lung infection and a lung irritation caused by the haze. He added that the two were entirely different. Infections are caused by micro organisms. Haze causes lung irritation. They are two separate conditions, he said.
Dr Lee Yeow Hian, a respiratory and sleep specialist at the Lee Respiratory And Sleep Clinic, said that the haze could not have caused an infection because the haze doesnt contain bacteria. The haze itself doesnt cause lung infections, he said, adding that with the onslaught of flu during that period, Madam Pang likely fell sick then and the illness got worse.
All three doctors however agreed that it was hard to rule out entirely if the haze did, or did not, contribute to the lung infection. Even if it did, that would be hard to prove.
There are ways to diagnose an infection. X-rays, blood tests, for example, said Dr Ong. These may show that the patient had an infection at that time. Or, for example, it [SGH] could have gotten cultures that showed certain bacteria, then it can say for sure that the infection was not due to the haze.
Dr Tham Meng Keat, a respiratory specialist at M K Tham Medical & Respiratory Clinic, also did not rule it out completely. The haze can dispose a sensitive lung to infection by altering its protective mechanism, so lets say if that mechanism is weakened then we can get an infection, he said.
Can the family sue?
We spoke to three law professors and several lawyers, who all said that it was possible to sue the errant companies under the Transboundary Haze Pollution Act. If Madam Pangs family members decide to sue, they would be the first since there have not been any civil suits filed under this Act, some of the lawyers said.
However, proving a direct causation would be hard. Out of the hundreds and millions of haze particles that came from Indonesia, how can anyone say that this one particulate caused her death, or that one dust particulate blew here from a particular companys land in Indonesia?
Dr Burton Ong, deputy director of the Asia-Pacific Centre for Environmental Law and an associate law professor at National University of Singapore (NUS), said that it was possible for the family to sue the errant companies involved under the Transboundary Haze Pollution Act, but suggested it would be more practical for the family to wait for the G to finish their prosecution before engaging in any civil lawsuit.
When the facts are all established from the criminal prosecution, they can start a civil lawsuit on it, he said. If you look at the intention behind the statute, it was designed to give people relief simply by showing that the person involved has caused or contributed to the haze. The whole spirit behind the statue is to establish that fact without having people to prove it for themselves.
But Dr Alan Tan, a law professor at NUS, said that it would be practically impossible for the family to show causation: There is the difficulty of identifying which company to sue In other words, which company produced the haze that caused the victims death?