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Singapore smog: Gas masks stock runs low amid record levels of pollution

Fears for building site workers as Indonesia tries to create rain clouds over forest fire

Singapore’s air pollution reached another all-time high before stabilising, as the Indonesian Government stepped up its efforts to extinguish forest fires on Sumatra.

The haze in Singapore eased slightly tonight, with the Pollutant Standards Index (PSI), measured over three hours, dropping to 142, down from the record high of 401 at noon. A PSI above 400 over 24 hours is deemed “life threatening to ill and elderly persons”, while anything above 300 is considered hazardous.

Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono ordered emergency management officials to “immediately mobilise all the country’s resources” to extinguish the fires on Sumatra.

Two helicopters with cloud-seeding equipment to artificially create rain were deployed from Jakarta and Borneo to Riau province, where the blazes have burned since Monday.

Earlier in the day, Singaporeans flocked to pharmacies and hospitals to buy up N95 gas masks as the air quality continued to decline.

At Tan Tock Seng Hospital residents were rationed to one box of masks each to avoid stockpiling. KK Women’s & Children’s Hospital ran out of children’s gas masks and by the early afternoon most stocks had been exhausted.

Despite the chronic conditions, no government decision was made to stop work. NGOs appealed for the city’s migrant workers – many working without gas masks – to be pulled off building sites dotted around the city-state.

“The workers have a lot of problems with these conditions, and a lot of companies have continued to  operate,” said A K M Mohsin, editor of the Singapore-Bangladeshi newspaper, Bangla Kantha. “The construction companies know if they stop work, they’ll lose money.”

Popular tourist attractions such as the Singapore Flyer were closed, with tourism expected to take a hit.

Some brands tried to cash in on the ‘haze’ effect: Adidas offered Singaporeans a free one-day gym pass to get out of the polluted air – as long as they own one piece of Adidas clothing. While McDonald’s was forced to apologise over a mock PSI advertisement, which read: “Today’s Peak Sauce Index is looking deliciously high.”

Some expats opted to flee with warnings of continued disruptions. Lydia Janssen, a mother of two young children, said she planned to take her children back to the UK while the air was still “hazardous”.

“Being cooked up inside, not feeling you can breathe with two kids both with horrendous coughs... it’s quite a lot of money [to fly back], but it’s the money or the health of our kids.”