The haze is back in Singapore, giving lots of worry for runners. Large-scale fires in Indonesia can rage on for weeks and months, and coastal winds carry the smoke over to Singapore and Malaysia, causing reduced visibility, as well as potential adverse health effects.

Haze levels are monitored by the National Environment Agency, which displays the PSI (Pollutant Standard Index) that measures air quality:

PSI Value PSI Descriptor
0 – 50 Good
51 – 100 Moderate
101 – 200 Unhealthy
201 – 300 Very unhealthy
Above 300 Hazardous

Haze conditions were at their worst last year, when the PSI hit a record 401 in Singapore on 21 June 2013, and hovered over the ‘very unhealthy’ range of 200 for most of the month.

How Will the Haze Affect Running in Singapore?

Air quality crossed the unhealthy range last night, with PSI readings reaching a high of 129 at 9pm.

If haze levels get worse, running events may be forced to be delayed, or even cancelled. The health concerns raised by the haze in 2013 caused the Shape Run organisers in Singapore to delay their run until October 2013. Last year’s edition of the Shape Run was originally scheduled in July 2013.

Health Complications of the Haze

If you’re exposed to the haze for an extended amount of time, short-term health complications may appear. These may include:

  • Irritated or watering eyes.
  • Sneezing or runny nose.
  • Sore throat, coughing and general throat irritation.
  • Dizziness or headaches.
  • Shortness of breath.

These symptoms are mild, and will usually subside if you stay indoors.

Long-term health concerns from the haze are mainly caused by the fine particles smaller than 2.5 micrometres (PM 2.5) found in haze.

People with extended exposure to these particles may have a higher risk of:

  • Cardiovascular effects, such as heart attacks.
  • Impaired lung development.
  • Development of chronic respiratory diseases, such as asthma, in children.

Monitor the Situation!

There are many ways for you to stay on top of the haze situation. The official haze monitoring website by the National Environment Agency (NEA) displays PSI readings that are regularly updated every 3 hours.

There are also a handful of apps that give updated PSI readings, such as WeatherLah, HAZE@SG, or myENV, the official app developed by the NEA.

How to Run When it is Hazy Outside?

The haze is problematic, but it doesn’t mean you should stop running entirely!

Here are some ways to keep fit even when it’s hazy outside:

  • Hit the treadmill and train in indoor gyms to keep your fitness up.
  • If you want to run overseas, this might be the perfect time to do so!
  • We recommend playing safe and refraining from running outdoors if the PSI levels are over 75, and ideally below 50. While the PSI levels of 51-100 indicate ‘moderate’ air quality, running is a demanding exercise that taxes your cardiovascular system.
  • Runners with respiratory problems like asthma, please remember to take the necessary precautions while running, such as bringing an inhaler with you!
  • You may experience throat and eye irritation while running outdoors, even if PSI levels are acceptable. Bring a water bottle to hydrate or rinse your eyes if needed.
  • Rain will help clear up the haze and freshen up air quality. You might be able to squeeze in a run outdoors after rainfall, but make sure to check the PSI readings first!
  • Take an N95 mask with you outdoors. You never know when the haze levels may become worse, and an N95 mask is certified to filter out PM 2.5 particles which are the main cause for concern. But remember not to run with a mask on!

What is Being Done to Combat the Haze?

The Singapore government currently assists Indonesia by identifying and providing satellite pictures and coordinates of ‘hotspots’, as well as offering aircraft to assist in cloud seeding.

The Indonesian government has several measures to counter the haze. Cloud seeding technology has been adopted to help create artificial rain, along with water bombing over the fires. The Indonesian Ministry of Environment has also fined the company Kallista Alam for illegally burning vegetation on 1,000 hectares (2,500 acres) of peat land in Aceh province. The company has to pay 14.3 billion rupiah (S$9.4 million) in losses to the state and 252 billion rupiah to rehabilitate the land it destroyed.

In addition, the Indonesia Parliament has agreed to ratify the ASEAN Agreement on Transboundary Haze Pollution in September 2014. The agreement requires Indonesia to work closely with fellow ASEAN members to prevent forest fires, as well as being more transparent in sharing information, such as satellite images on which areas are burning and their ownership.

Keeping Positive in A Smoky Situation!

Unfortunately for runners in Singapore, we can do little except to take the necessary precautions against the haze. Another issue that runners will be worried about would be the potential delay or cancellation of running events due to health concerns brought on by the hazy conditions.

Fingers crossed that the haze won’t reach such unhealthy levels this year! What are some other ways for us keep running without the haze affecting us?

Jonathan Chou

Jonathan was a stereotypical couch potato a few years ago. He finally took the courage to take his health into his own hands, and now enjoys lengthy runs by East Coast Park.

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