Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Lowering API trigger for school closure

The Health Ministry will on Friday push for lowering the Air Pollutant Index (API) reading that automatically triggers the closure of schools.

Minister Datuk Seri Dr S. Subramaniam said the cabinet would be asked to review the decision for automatic closure of schools in areas that experienced a reading of more than the hazardous level of 300.

While he did not specify the quantum, Dr Subramaniam said the trigger might be lowered if the Education Ministry agreed to it.

“We will raise this matter in the next cabinet meeting and sit down with all parties to see how we can approach this matter,” he told the New Straits Times yesterday.

It was reported that schools in areas that breached the 300 API mark would be automatically closed, while school authorities could also decide to do this if the readings were in the “very unhealthy” range of between 250 and 300.

Education Minister Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin had said that parents could decide not to send their children to school if the reading was below 250, provided they informed the school authorities.

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However, some parents said they were inconvenienced by last-minute decisions to close schools. Some had sent their children to school only to discover that it had been closed for the day.

There were claims that some schools had stopped lessons midway, causing problems for parents who had to leave work to fetch their children.

Subramaniam said his ministry would consult the Natural Resources and Environment Ministry before making a decision.

"We must reach a consensus if we want to lower the API trigger to close schools. We will suggest this and discuss future standards and guidelines."

The API reading at 5pm yesterday showed only one hazardous area -- Port Klang, Selangor -- which recorded a 464 reading.

Three areas recorded "very unhealthy" readings, with Jalan Pegoh in Ipoh (211) and Seri Manjung (290), both in Perak; and Shah Alam, Selangor (252). Twenty areas showed unhealthy readings.

Yesterday, groups representing parents and teachers urged the authorities to formulate a standardised guideline for schools in haze-affected areas to be closed automatically.

They said it was too risky for schools to stay open if the readings were between 250 and 300.

National Union of the Teaching Profession president Hashim Adnan said: "Based on the standardised guidelines, all schools should be closed if the API in an area breached the unhealthy level of 150.

"These are schoolchildren we're talking about. Their health and safety should be our main concern, and allowing schools to stay open when air levels are unhealthy is not advisable."

Subramaniam said there was an increase in respiratory-related illnesses because of the haze.

In Johor, there was a 38.5 per cent increase in upper respiratory tract infection (URTI) cases and 122 per cent rise in asthma cases.

In Malacca, asthma cases saw a 127 per cent jump, while URTI cases increased 20.7 per cent and conjunctivitis cases went up 63.6 per cent.

Subramaniam said the ministry was looking at areas with an API of 200 and above to distribute masks to people.

The public can get free masks at government clinics and hospitals.

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