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Asia Minute: Air Pollution Clouds F-1 Racing In Singapore

Vincent Thian/AP
Ferrari driver Sebastian Vettel of Germany steers his car during the first practice session at the Marina Bay City Circuit ahead of the Singapore Formula One Grand Prix in Singapore, Friday, Sept. 20, 2019.

The multi-billion-dollar world of Formula One Racing faces an unusual challenge this weekend. It’s not about stormy weather or road conditions -- the problem is air pollution in Southeast Asia. 

This weekend’s Formula One race in Singapore may take place in the midst of some of the worst air pollution the city has seen in at least three years.

Drivers have been practicing in recent days in conditions Singapore’s National Environment Agency calls “unhealthy” …although skies cleared a bit by late Thursday.

The race itself is Sunday—and forecasters say the air quality depends on the winds—and whether they continue to push toxic haze over from forest fires in Indonesia.

Haze has already closed thousands of schools across Indonesia and neighboring Malaysia—Al Jazeera reports nearly 2-million students have been forced to stay home.

The pollution has blown all the way to the central Philippines—to Cebu—where the Environment Management Bureau continues to monitor conditions.

So far, it hasn’t been bad enough to affect air travel---although some flights in Malaysia and Indonesia have been cancelled—and the outlook remains uncertain.

Many of the fires have been set deliberately---by farmers clearing land for palm oil and wood pulp plantations.

Indonesia’s President Joko Widodo has promised to crack down on offenders---and by Thursday, authorities had made more than two hundred arrests—including managers in some plantation companies.

Air quality readings throughout the region continue to vary---but in many locations they have pushed into categories that health officials call “unhealthy,” “very unhealthy” and “dangerous.”

Bill Dorman has been the news director at Hawaiʻi Public Radio since 2011.
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