* Pollution index tops 300, indicating hazardous air quality
* Singapore sending delegation to Indonesia on Thursday
* Indonesia suggests Singapore companies partly to blame
By Kevin Lim and Eveline Danubrata
SINGAPORE, June 19 Singapore's air quality
deteriorated to "hazardous" levels late on Wednesday as smoke
from slash-and-burn land clearing in Indonesia enveloped the
city-state, inflaming tensions between the Southeast Asian
Singapore, a major financial centre, will send a delegation
to Jakarta on Thursday to discuss the smog that has turned its
usually clear skies grey, Environment Minister Vivian
Balakrishnan told a news conference.
The outlines of skyscrapers were barely visible in the
central core of the bustling city-state and the smell of burnt
wood permeated the air.
"Things will get worse before getting better," the Today
newspaper quoted Balakrishnan as saying on its Twitter feed.
The Pollution Standards Index (PSI) soared to a record high
of 321 at 10 p.m., up from 290 just an hour earlier and below
200 earlier in the day. The haze has also shrouded some parts of
A PSI reading above 300 indicates "hazardous" air quality,
while a reading between 201 and 300 means "very unhealthy".
The 321 level smashed the previous record of 226 reached in
Singapore in 1997 when smoke from Indonesian fires disrupted
shipping and air travel across Southeast Asia.
Operations at Singapore's Changi Airport, an Asian aviation
hub, have not been affected so far but work at some construction
sites appeared to have stopped or slowed.
Drug stores and supermarkets ran out of face masks and
people queued in long lines to buy multiple boxes of them when
fresh supplies came in.
Raffles Quay Asset Management, which manages the Marina Bay
Financial Centre complex that houses many of the banks operating
in Singapore, said it has issued face masks to security staff.
"They are stationed outdoors for long hours and directly
exposed to the haze," it said.
The illegal burning of forests to clear land for palm
plantations is a recurring problem in Indonesia, particularly
during the annual dry season from June to September.
Indonesian officials have suggested companies based in
Singapore may be partly to blame for the blazes. Singapore has
said it wants Indonesia to provide maps of land concessions so
it can act against firms that allow slash-and-burn farming.
"What we know is that there are several foreign investors
from Singapore involved. But we can't just blame them for this
since we still need to investigate this further," said Hadi
Daryanto, a senior official at Indonesia's Forestry Ministry.
Singapore-based palm oil companies with land concessions in
Indonesia include Wilmar International Ltd, Golden
Agri-Resources Ltd and First Resources Ltd.
Wilmar, Golden-Agri and First Resources said on Wednesday
they had a "zero burning" policies and used only mechanical
means to clear land. Cargill, whose Asia-Pacific regional hub is
in Singapore, said there were no hotspots nor fire on its
plantations in South Sumatra and West Kalimantan.