On 8 July 2013, Parliament debated the Government’s response to the perennial haze problem. These are the questions I asked the Minister for National Development and Minister for the Environment and Water Resources, and their responses (Part 3 of 3).
Mr Gerald Giam Yean Song asked the Minister for National Development during this haze period, whether BCA is taking any steps to inspect the air-conditioning and mechanical systems of commercial and industrial buildings to ensure that the indoor air in these buildings does not contain an unhealthy level of contaminants.
The Senior Minister of State for National Development (Mr Lee Yi Shyan) (for the Minister for National Development): Mdm Speaker, under the Building Control Act and Regulations, building designs are required to comply with the performance requirements for fresh air intake and air change specified in the Singapore Standard called SS553. This is the Code of Practice for Air-conditioning and Mechanical Ventilation in Buildings. The design standard in SS553, such as air change and fresh air intake, are based on the standards published by the American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air-Conditioning Engineers (ASHRAE), which are internationally recognised standards.
After any buildings are completed, building owners are responsible for the operation and maintenance of the buildings. For office buildings, building owners may refer to NEA’s “Good Indoor Air Quality in Office Premises” guidelines and Singapore Standards SS554, which is the Code of Practice for Indoor Air Quality for Air-conditioned Buildings. The SS554’s requirements are also aligned with international best practice. For example, guidelines on filters to protect building occupants from airborne particulate matter are aligned with test methods published by ASHRAE.
The recent extreme haze level was unprecedented. The 24-hour PSI hit a high of 246, while the previous high was 142 in 1994. At such a high level of outdoor pollution, the building owners may have to monitor its indoor air quality and take steps to minimise open contact with the outdoor fresh air and also to take steps to maintain air filters more frequently if the haze is a prolonged situation.
We have earlier commissioned a multi-agency team – involving NEA, BCA, MOM, MOH and MSF and local research institutes – to review the indoor air quality of various premises to determine if the current Codes of Practice need to be further refined. More measures may be introduced based on this study.
Mr Gerald Giam Yean Song: Mdm Speaker, I appreciate the Senior Minister of State’s explanation of the regulations in place. My question was: During this period of the haze, were there any extra steps to enforce or monitor building owners to ensure that they actually do what they are supposed to do.
Mr Lee Yi Shyan: Mdm Speaker, I would just like to clarify that, currently, both BCA and NEA have no regulations on indoor air quality per se. What NEA has introduced is a code of best practices that building owners would want to adhere to for maintaining their air conditioning in office buildings. These are guidelines.
Instead of running the risk of over-legislation, we have to, in this instance, depend on the indoor users — the office workers and those people working in the air-conditioning environment — to take some responsibility and make sure that they provide feedback to the owners and the facility managers for building maintenance.
So this is a premise that we are working on and it has worked well. Whether we would want to refine subsequent best practices for indoor air quality, we will have to wait for the technical study that is being carried out. Necessarily, we would require quite a bit of data support to establish the difference between outdoor and indoor air quality. And, of course, as a technical standard, the Member will appreciate that it has to be implementable and also measurable when we publish the standards.
ADVICE ON WAYS TO REDUCE LEVEL OF INDOOR AIR POLLUTION
Mr Gerald Giam Yean Song asked the Minister for the Environment and Water Resources (a) whether the Ministry can provide more advice to parents with young children (including newborns) and pregnant women on how to reduce indoor air pollution levels; and (b) what advice can the Ministry provide to households, childcare centres, kindergartens and schools on the appropriate types of air cleaning devices that may be needed to reduce the level of indoor air pollutants during the haze period.
Dr Vivian Balakrishnan: During the smoke haze episodes, the main air pollutant of concern is particulate matter.
When the outdoor haze situation deteriorates, young children and pregnant women are advised to stay indoors and reduce their activities. Doors and windows should be closed to reduce the entry of outdoor air pollutants. Fans and air conditioners could be helpful for air circulation. Any activity that generates more particles and particulate matter indoors such as cigarette/cigar/pipe-smoking, burning of candles, vacuuming, dry dusting and sweeping should be avoided.
During the periods of haze, air cleaners may be helpful in households, kindergartens and childcare centres. There are three main types of air cleaners which remove particulate matter: mechanical air filters, electrostatic precipitators and ionisers. Ozone-generating cleaners should be avoided as ground-level ozone is a harmful pollutant. As soon as the outdoor air quality improves to healthy levels, windows could be opened to enhance natural ventilation.
More information is available at the NEA Haze website at www.haze.gov.sg.
Source: Singapore Parliament Reports (Hansard)