Air quality in M’sia getting worse

Grey skies: Experts are saying the air quality in Malaysia has worsened due to urbanisation and the seasonal haze in the country.

PETALING JAYA: Experts are saying the air quality in Malaysia has worsened due to urbanisation and the seasonal haze in the country.

Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia atmospheric chemistry and pollution expert Prof Dr Mohd Talib Latif said increasing industrialisation has caused air pollutants to spike over time.

“The high number of motor vehicles increases air pollutants in the city centre, and contributes to high ozone concentration in the suburban areas, ” he said in an interview.

A 2018 study, which he co-authored, showed that the levels of ozone has generally shown an increase in urban areas from 2005 to 2015.

Increased levels of outdoor ozone is associated with a variety of adverse health effects such as asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, according to the US-based Indoor Air Quality Scientific Findings Resource Bank.

The study, which looked at four selected locations, namely Klang, Petaling Jaya, Shah Alam and Cheras, also showed that levels of carbon monoxide and nitrogen dioxide were also high in urban areas.

These pollutants are mainly emitted from motor vehicles in these areas.

However, Prof Mohd Talib said better technology of vehicles and industries could reduce the concentration of air pollutants.

Another expert, Dr Md Firoz Khan from Universiti Malaya’s Department of Chemistry, said while the amount of particulates (PM10) and carbon monoxide had decreased in the early 2000s, this had started “increasing steadily” in the last few years.

This is according to the data that he has been plotting for an academic paper that has not been sent for publication as of yet.

“Malaysia has suffered a lot due to exposure to air pollution, levels of which often spike due to monsoonal changes.

“For example, Malaysia will experience severe haze pollution during the southwest dry monsoon, ” he said when contacted.

The major factors of such a trend, he added, include slash-and-burn activities and wild forest and peat soil fires.

He also added that according to a report by the World Health Organisation in 2018, nine out of 10 people breathe polluted air worldwide.

Air pollution, he said, can cause adverse effects on human health, the economy and even entire ecosystems.

“As we can see, the carbon emissions from the bushfires in Australia are causing them to develop their own ‘weather system’, including dry lightning storms and fire tornadoes, ” he said, citing a recent news article.

Consultant Ear, Nose and Throat (ENT) surgeon Datuk Dr Balwant Singh Gendeh said smog and haze have contributed to an increase in respiratory illnesses in the country.

“With industrialisation and haze from neighbouring countries, respiratory illnesses have been on the increase, ” he said.

More patients, he said, are coming to the general practitioners and hospitals, especially those with asthma and wheezing problems.

“Acquired respiratory diseases which are caused by environmental factors, usually start with bronchitis, and later it leads to wheezing.

“If it is not treated early, then it will develop into full-blown asthma, ” he said.

Dr Balwant, who is also the Association of Specialists in Private Medical Practice Malaysia president, said when a person develops asthma, a body’s oxygen-carrying capacity would be reduced.

“When a person has asthma, they will wheeze and they will take a longer time (to breathe) and their body tissue does not get adequate oxygenation, ” he said.

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