No data on long-term impact of transboundary haze: MOH

No data on long-term impact of transboundary haze: MOH

29 January 2016

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Singapore — Any research on this would be “highly challenging” as results would be based on observational studies, says Minister of State for Health Lam Pin Min.

There is currently no data – both locally or internationally – that looks into the long-term health impact of transboundary haze, Minister of State for Health Lam Pin Min said in Parliament on Friday (Jan 29).

Any research on this would be “highly challenging” as results would be based on observational studies, which would not be able to show a definite cause-and-effect relationship, Dr Lam said in response to a question by Non-Constituency Member of Parliament (NCMP) Leon Perera.

“For example, it would be difficult to determine that intermittent exposure to haze 20 years ago caused the chronic obstructive airways disease in a person, since it could also have been caused by other factors such as smoking, previous lung infection, or existing lung diseases,” Dr Lam said.

However, there have been overseas studies based on long-term exposure to haze – different from the short-term, episodic haze that Singapore experiences, he said.

“These studies show that continuous, long-term exposure to air pollutants over several years may result in lung function abnormalities in children and subsequently, in adulthood. This could lead to greater susceptibility to the effects of ageing, infection and other pollutants, such as tobacco smoke, in adults.”

Short-term exposure to haze may cause irritation of the eyes, nose and throat, although such irritation usually resolves on its own, Dr Lam noted. In individuals with pre-existing chronic heart or lung diseases, short term exposure may trigger an episode or exacerbate the underlying diseases, such as an asthma attack, he added.

Several measures have been put in place to help Singaporeans in times of haze, such as distributing care packs and masks to the needy and implementing the Haze Subsidy Scheme, which provided subsidies of S$3.3 million last year with more than 77,000 haze-related attendances. Air purifiers will also be installed in classrooms of schools by July, Dr Lam said.As a blaze continues to burn out of control in northwest Tasmania, extending an emergency warning for residents, a senior firefighter says authorities face weeks more work.

The small shack community of Temma remained on high alert for a second day on Thursday with the Tasmania Fire Service warning of an ‘uncontrollable, unpredictable and fast-moving’ fire, which has already burned through almost 13,000 hectares.

While outhouses, fencing and verandas have been destroyed, there are no reports of dwelling damage, injury or loss of livestock.

Four people have been treated for smoke inhalation.

The areas of Nelson Bay and Arthur River remain on alert and the Nelson Bay Bridge has been destroyed.

Deputy chief Jeremy Smith says forecast rain over coming days will bring little, if any, relief.

‘We’re only anticipating potentially up to 20mm over the three or four days over the weekend so that is not enough rain to extinguish these fires,’ he told ABC Radio.

‘We’ve got many weeks of going through the fire lines and ensuring they’re completely out.’

The fire was one of more than 70 started across the state over a fortnight ago during a series of dry-lightning strikes.

Many of the blazes are burning in remote, difficult-to-access areas, including sections of protected old-growth forest.

Access to Cradle Mountain in the state’s central north has been closed, along with the popular Overland Track, from which trekkers were being air-winched to safety late on Wednesday.

On Thursday fire crews are due to start arriving from New Zealand to join local and interstate personnel.

‘The crews will have to go and do the hard slog and track every edge of those fires,’ Mr Smith said.

Forty helicopters, including some on loan from interstate, are being used to water bomb the fire in difficult-to-reach areas, while radar technology is proving helpful as smoke reduces visibility.

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