Singapore Smog At A Critical Level – Palm Oil The Culprit

Smog levels in Singapore have hit a level so high, it’s life threatening. This isn’t just somebody else’s problem, it’s ours too.

The previous PSI (Pollutant Standards Index) record set in Singapore was a reading of 226, recorded in September 1997. What’s happening over there today has shattered that record – the reading at 11am local time was a staggering 400.

According to Singapore’s government, readings above 400 over 24 hours can be life-threatening to the ill and elderly. Even a PSI reading of 300 is considered hazardous.

The smog is mostly due to a source quite some distance away – in Indonesia.

Peatland in Riau province on the island of Sumatra is being burned to create new farmland for the establishment of palm oil plantations and some old plantings have been put to the torch to make way for new ones. 85 hotspots were detected over central Sumatra on 20 June 2013.

From what I understand, the pollution from ongoing burning drifts over from Indonesia on a nearly annual basis. The following photo of Singapore is from Flickr user jeremyhughes; taken during an incident in 2010. Bear in mind the pollution situation is far worse today and may not improve for some time.

Singapore smog

This is where we come in.  Palm oil is used in nearly a third of processed food products and is also used as a fuel, in soaps, shampoo, cosmetics and detergents amongst other things.  Most of us would consume palm oil in products daily.

We all need to get a better understanding of the issues surrounding palm oil and take appropriate action. This is more than just about what is happening in Singapore, but also the destruction of unique ecosystems and a carbon bomb that is being dropped with the burning; which affects all of us.

Prior to reading the news story about Singapore, palm oil cropped up on my radar earlier this week while I was looking at some green certifications that mentioned palm oil and the concept of the Greenpalm program.

The program is designed to tackle the environmental and social problems created by the production of palm oil. It raised a few red flags for me, but I haven’t had a chance to delve into the program – which I’ll do in the next couple of days and then publish an item on the topic.