TL;DR – Lucky not toxic.
People in many parts of Singapore reported that they smelt a burning smell on Monday (25th Sep). The smell was described to be foul, “chemical-line” and choking. Some parts of Singapore also saw hazy conditions.
The incident revealed these three things about Singapore:
1. What happens in our neighbouring country can affect us very quickly
We still don’t know the exact cause of the smell. Dr Erik Velasco, a climate and meteorological research scientist at the Singapore-MIT Alliance for Research and Technology, suggested that the smell could have come from the “release of chemical products or substances from a major industrial facility”.
But the industrial plants in the north-eastern parts of Singapore, where the smell was first detected, were found to be operating normally.
That has led some experts to speculate that the smell could have been caused by industrial pollution from Malaysia.
2. Singapore is really, really very small
The fact that the smell spread from the northern parts to almost all parts of Singapore, even as far south as Bukit Timah, Commonwealth and even West Coast area within a matter of a few hours shows that Singapore is really quite small.
What happens in one part of the country very quickly spreads to other parts. It is a vulnerability of Singapore that we have to learn to deal with.
3. Government agencies really need to improve their comms process
The National Environment Agency (NEA) was first alerted of the smell at about 5pm. But it only released its first announcement on the incident at about 8pm.
That took about three hours.
Sure, it takes some time to complete investigations. And sure, it takes time to be able to get to some degree of certainty about whether the smell is caused by any toxic gases. But NEA could have made an announcement as soon as they were alerted to the incident to let people know that they’re investigating. And they can release more information more frequently as they progress through their investigations.
That would have gone some way in making people feel less worried. Given that some people found it hard to breathe, the lack of information left many people wonderinf for a few hours whether they should be concerned or take any precautions.
Thankfully, it wasn’t anything more serious
Fortunately, the incident only caused minor discomfort. No one was reported to be seriously affected by it.
But it does emphasize our vulnerabilities and how easily we can be affected by what goes on in our neighbours.
We also hope that the government agencies will improve their communications process to manage the sentiments of the public. Only then will we be better prepared for potentially more serious incidents.