Sellers of facemasks have been doing brisk business across the lower parts of Southeast Asia over the past few weeks. Millions of people covering their mouths and noses to guard against choking pollution have become participants in an annual ritual that tries everyone’s patience.
For the past 16 years or so, cities and towns across Malaysia and Singapore, and occasionally parts of southern Thailand, are blanketed in dense, pungent smog every year. The haze can appear anytime between May and October, but this year the month of June has been one of the worst in memory.
Pollution levels in Malaysia reached record highs in June and on Kuala Lumpur’s famous skyline, the iconic 88-floor Petronas twin towers disappeared from view for days. In Singapore, aerial photographs revealed almost nothing because the smog was so thick. The PSI (Pollutant Standards Index) in the city-state at times topped 400 — anything above 100 is considered unhealthy and 300 or more is hazardous with a capital H.
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