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Selangor is one of the 13 states of peninsular Malaysia,located on the west coast, finding itself close to the capital city of KualaLumpur. It has the largest economy out of all states in Malaysia, as well asthe largest population with a highly developed infrastructure. Whilst thesefactors go a long way in improving the quality of life for its citizens, theycan also be contributing factors to pollution levels, as with a high populationand road infrastructure often comes a large amount of vehicle usage.
Looking at the different cities located in the state, thereadings taken over 2019 can have telling signs as to the levels of Selangor'soverall pollution levels. The city of Klang, Selangor's most polluted city in2019 came in with a PM2.5 reading of 20.7 μg/m³, placing it into the ‘moderate’pollution bracket, which requires a PM2.5 reading of anywhere between 12.1 to35.4 μg/m³ to be placed in this group.
This reading placed Klang into 845th place out ofall cities ranked worldwide, not a particularly terrible rating when comparedto some highly polluted cities such as Ghaziabad in India, which came in at 1st placeout of all cities worldwide with a PM2.5 reading of 110.2 μg/m³.
Whilst this is somewhat of a drastic contrast, it doeshighlight that Klang and therefore Selangor is not suffering from overlypolluted atmosphere, however not a single month out of the year of 2019 fellbelow the moderate rating in Klang. This remains true for the other cities inSelangor, with none of them falling below a moderate rating save for two monthsin the city of Kuala Selangor, which saw November and December fall into the‘good’ ratings bracket with readings of 11.1 μg/m³ and 10.9 μg/m³ respectively.
Whilst all the cities suffered from the usual late yearspike in pollution due to the forest fires from Sumatra, there was a distinctlack of cleaner months that are usually seen in peninsular Malaysia due to theheavy rain that occurs during monsoon season. As such it can be said thatSelangor has an ambient pollution level that could certainly be improved upon.
Due to a somewhat large statewide population of some 6.5million inhabitants, there would also be a massive usage of automobiles, withcars and motorbikes finding themselves in large numbers on the road. This is anissue on a country wide level, with many Malaysian citizens being over relianton their personal cars due to heavy amounts of money and development put intoroad infrastructure, along with large amounts of government subsidies on fuel,making commuting by car a very desirable way to get around in Malaysia.
Besides the vehicles on the road contributing to the year-roundlevels of PM2.5 and PM10 (with spikes of pollution seen in certain times of theday, particularly rush hour periods), there are also other pollution sourcessuch as the factories and the industrial sector (with construction areashelping to contribute to pollution levels through fine particles escaping from poorlymaintained sites).
Numerous factories can be seen in the city’s limits, withpaper manufacturers, garment production lines as well as paint and plasticindustries all being fairly prevalent. Many of these would rely on fossil fuelsfor energy, and as such the burning of coal would take place to provide theirpower, releasing even more pollutants into the air alongside other fumesreleased through the industrial process (with plastic factories releasingmolten plastic fumes as well as microplastic particles into the atmosphere).
On a final and most prominent note, the forest and farmlandfires that occur in Indonesia, in particular the island region of Sumatra, takethe largest toll on the air quality of not only Malaysia but also southernThailand and Singapore. These farmers in Sumatra continue to use ‘slash andburn’ farming practices, which despite being highly illegal, continue to occurritually year after year. The smog and haze that comes from these often maketheir way directly over to Malaysia, with disastrous consequences on the healthof all of its citizens.
As touched onbriefly previously, Selangor is subject to fairly consistent levels of‘moderately’ rated pollution year-round, with both Klang and Shah Alam comingin with PM2.5 readings between 15 to 20 μg/m³ throughout the various months ofthe year. PM2.5 refers to particulate matter that is 2.5 micrometers indiameter, or of lesser size, and is roughly 3% of the width of a human hair,making it incredibly small and therefore harmful. Due to its potency as an airpollutant, it figures largely when calculating the overall levels of airquality.
The monththat came in with the worst readings across all 5 cities ranked in Selangor wasSeptember, due of course to the aforementioned forest and farmland firesoccurring in Indonesia, with their vast swathes of smoke and haze being pushedover by winds to create this trans-border pollution problem.
Klang came inwith a September reading of 43.7 μg/m³, whilst Shah Alam came in with 45.5 μg/m³.Petaling Jaya and Banting both came in with readings of 45.1 and 42.1 μg/m³respectively, with the cleanest city in Selangor state, Kuala Selangor, comingin at 38.6 μg/m³. These readings all show that the pollution spikes were fairlyconsistent with each other, with Shah Alam coming in with the worst reading,although by only a small margin. Due to these heightened readings of PM2.5 andPM10, it would be of great concern for citizens and travelers alike to takepreventative measures, such as staying indoors and avoiding outdoor activityduring the month of September. Other initiatives include staying up to date ondaily pollution forecasts via air quality maps as available on the IQAirwebsite, as well as the AirVisual app.
Whilst manymonths do not present significant health issues to those exposed to them, withreadings such as 14.4 μg/m³ or 16 μg/m³ perhaps being able to aggravatesymptoms of asthma in those who suffer from it or cause mild skin and throatirritation to those who are sensitive to such chemicals, the month of chiefimportance is of course September, with incidences of vast clouds of smoke andhaze covering the sky and blocking out distant buildings being warning enoughthat the quality of air is extremely poor. As such, the related health issues thatare mentioned may still occur during the rest of the year, but have a highlyelevated chance of occurring in September.
To mention afew of these conditions, they would include ailments to the respiratory,cardiovascular and circulatory systems, with incidences of lung cancer beingincreased, as well as chances of developing chronic obstructive pulmonarydisease (COPD), an umbrella term which includes within it a variety ofrespiratory related diseases such as bronchitis, emphysema, asthma as well as areduction in full lung function. With fine pollutants such as black carbon, dueto its small size it can make its way deep into the tissue of the lungs andpenetrate into the alveoli, the tiny air sacs that are responsible for movingoxygen into our bloodstream. This tiny particulate matter can accumulate here,reducing the lungs ability to fully take in oxygen thus exacerbating breathingdifficulties. These accumulations can also cause lung cancer to take hold ifexposed for long enough periods of time, as well as chest infections overshorter periods of time.
To move outof the pulmonary disorders spectrum, PM2.5 also has the ability to enter thebloodstream via the lungs, and makes its way round the body via the circulatorysystem. This has a number of problems associated with it (due to the obviousnature of having dangerous materials in your blood) which can cause damage tothe blood vessels, heart diseases, arrythmias as well as increased chances ofheart attacks.
Damage canalso occur to the hepatic and renal (liver and kidney) systems, due to theirrole as filtration units in the body. Reproductive health can also be affectedseverely if exposed for long enough periods of time. For at risk people such asmothers carrying unborn babies, there is the chance of miscarriages to occur,as well as birth defects, low birth weight and early delivery, all of which canincrease the chance of infant mortality.
Breathingfumes from burning plastic (as one may find in the air near a plastic recyclingor production plant) can cause severe headaches as well as damage to thenervous system. These are but a few of the wide variety of symptoms that mayoccur to those exposed to high pollution levels (such as the ones that occur inSeptember), with exposure amounts and lengths correlating directly with thechance of such illnesses occurring, and their severity.
As withneighboring Kuala Lumpur, initiatives towards improving public transport havebecome more apparent and necessary in recent times, with more money andresources being put into improving the public transport sector, in an attemptto get people to stop relying on their personal vehicles so much and thusreduce the levels of year-round pollution that Selangor and other states see.In regards to the fire problems stemming from Indonesia, cooperation on aninternational level continues to take place, but an actual definitive method tobring these practices to an end and thus stop the September haze from occurringhas yet to be fully put into place.