Saturday, 3 October 2015

Haze - Air Pollutant Index (API)

(screenshot taken from Air Pollutant Index of Malaysia)

The sun has been less scorching and the scenery has been blurry for almost a month. Holding an umbrella, I walked towards the faculty, trying my best to breath through nose despite of the burning smell, hopefully this amazing creation given by God can filter away the smoke suspending in the afternoon air during this hazy season. As a person with over 18 years of sinus experience, minimizing exposure towards the haze is a must to prevent triggering allergic condition but this trans-boundary man-made phenomenon has cornered many of us to the state that we have to stay in air-conditioned room whole day long, if it is available. Simply staying indoor to avoid the haze is no longer a temporary solution unless you shut off all the ventilation you have in the building. Haze has brought so much discomfort to our daily lives but how much do we actually know about the figure that we have been watching closely every day hoping for school closing to get information about the haze condition?  

Development of Air Quality Guideline in Malaysia 

1989 - Recommended Malaysian Air Quality Guidelines (RMG)
1993 - Malaysian Air Quality Index (MAQI)
1996 - Air Pollutant Index (API)
[API closely follows the system of Pollutant Standards Index (PSI) of United States, now known as Air Quality Index (AQI)]

Air Pollutant Index (API)

We have been using the API system since 1996 (just found that I am older than this system, hahaha) and I believe that most people only know that the higher the reading of API, the worse the air quality (don't even border to remember the exact figure for each category, unless the lecturer is going to test us in the exam). As you can see in the image below, as soon as the API exceeds 100, the air is considered as unhealthy. Unlike what is usually displayed, API does not stop at the status hazardous (>300). If you refer to A Guide to Air Pollutant Index in Malaysia published by the Department of Environment in 2000, if API exceeds 500, it will be declared as emergency state and the public will have to follow the order of National Security Council. We have experienced school closing and many locations reached unhealthy state which is already bad enough (think about the sore throat you are having now!). Can you imagine the condition in Indonesia where API is over 1000?

You might find that some colour coding for API you get on internet is different from this one. The one which starts the colour with green is actually AQI. So make sure that you don't mixed up both similar systems.
(image taken from Google Play)

Calculation of API

This was a really tricky question to me because even thought I am an environmental student I had never thought of knowing about it at all (credits go to Dr. Tengku who made me feeling ashamed of not knowing)! API is not only a measurement for the severity of haze (it should be called suspended particulate matter), but also for the other 4 pollutants: ozone, carbon monoxide, nitrogen dioxide and sulphur dioxide. Data will be collected using 52 continuous air quality monitoring stations set up throughout Malaysia (yes, we have only 52, you can now imagine the cost needed for each equipment). Then, the sub-index of each pollutant will be determined respectively according to the standards given. From the 5 sub-indexes we get, the highest one will be the API figure (of course the pollutant responsible towards this reading will be stated.

What to do then?

There is no way we can fly over to Indonesia helping them putting out the fire. Besides doing self-protection (wearing mask, staying indoor etc.) and complaining regarding how bad the haze is on Facebook, we are just waiting and praying for this hazy season to come to an end. The effort of a single person (stop smoking, stop open burning, reduce driving etc.) might be too small to make a difference, but there are a few NGOs who are working hard on solving this problem by educating the public regarding haze and also encouraging the people to stand up for our rights of clean air who need our support.

Greenpeace Southeast Asia

World Wildlife Fund (WWF) Singapore & People's Movement to Stop Haze (PM.Haze)

Well there are more to explore on this topic (what is haze, peatland fire, slash and burn agriculture etc.) and all the information is accessible on Google. Haze is a problem that has been haunting us every year. Turning a blind eye towards the already blurry vision is not a solution. Lets get started by educating ourselves, and then figure out the little things that we can do to contribute to this bigger fight towards haze.

Photo taken last year as I cycled to class. It seems that this problem has been on-going  for years but why do we forget about it easily after the hazy season ended and embrace the next one one year later?


1) Department of Environment. (2000). A guide to air pollutant index in Malaysia (API) (4th ed.). Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia: Department of Environment.

2) Department of Environment. Air pollutant index of Malaysia. Retrieved from

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