Smoke smothers Malaysia, unhealthy air in 6 areas

Malaysians woke up to a smoky morning with at least six areas breaching the 100 mark in the air pollutant index (API), with the highest reading of 126 recorded in Nilai, Negri Sembilan.

The other areas which recorded unhealthy API are Port Klang (117); Seremban (111); Putrajaya (105); Batu Muda in Kuala Lumpur (104); and Banting (102), according to the Department of Environment website.

Most of the air pollution comes from local sources but eruptions from Indonesia's Mount Sinabung volcano in neighbouring Sumatra over the past four days have sent plumes of ash into the sky.

An API reading of between 0 and 50 is considered good; 51 to 100 moderate; 100 to 200 unhealthy; 200 to 300 very unhealthy; and more than 300 hazardous.

The country has been enveloped in smoke for the past several weeks.

Air quality was also poor earlier this year with several areas recording unhealthy levels.Last year, Putrajaya declared a state of emergency in Muar and Ledang in Johor which was choked by smoke from forest fires in Indonesia as the API air pollution levels crossed 300.

The Muar pollution reading was Malaysia's highest since the API hit 860 during a severe 1997-1998 haze crisis that gripped the region and thrust the issue onto the Southeast Asian agenda.

In August last year, following an outcry from parents and teachers unions, the Education Ministry declared that schools must close when the air pollutant index reached 200 instead of the previous 300 limit.A circular on the directive was sent to state education departments by the Education Ministry on August 7.

The National Union of the Teaching Profession (NUTP) expressed unhappiness at the height of the haze in June when schools were told to close only when the API reached 300.Subsequently, the ministry revised its decision and said schools would close if the API reached 200. – October 10, 2014