MP Leon Perera

Mr Leon Perera asked the Minister for Sustainability and the Environment (a) whether the Ministry has done studies on the annual mortality associated with air pollution from human activities in Singapore; (b) if so, what is the number of annual deaths in the last five years; (c) whether the Government has an estimate on the annual monetary cost to public health and social care services associated with air pollution; and (d) if so, what is the annual cost in the last five years.

The Senior Minister of State for Sustainability and the Environment (Dr Amy Khor Lean Suan) (for the Minister for Sustainability and the Environment): My Ministry takes into account the World Health Organization’s (WHO) air quality guidelines, as well as studies on the health costs of air pollution, to formulate air pollution mitigation policies to safeguard public health. As the studies differ in their methodologies and assumptions, we are unable to provide specific information on the annual mortality or health costs associated with air pollution in Singapore. Nonetheless, it is clear that reducing emissions of air pollutants benefit Singaporeans.

Mr Speaker: Mr Leon Perera.

Mr Leon Perera (Aljunied): I thank the Senior Minister of State for her reply. Just a few supplementary questions. Firstly, no doubt, there are differences in the methodologies used in these studies. Would the Government consider developing a particular yardstick based on the methodological best practices out there, in order to derive an estimate for what is the health impact, the mortality impact of air pollution?

My second supplementary question is what policy levers are available to the Government and what policy levers does it use to induce facilities that have made air pollution to scale back and reduce that air pollution? And this is important given the effects on human health which can be particularly bad for industrial pollutants.

Thirdly, what is the progress of the Government towards achieving the WHO guideline for PM2.5 pollution, in the air, which I believe the Government has stated as a goal?

And lastly, when does the Government estimate we would be able to hit this WHO-preferred guideline for PM2.5 air pollution?

Dr Amy Khor Lean Suan: I thank the Member for his four supplementary questions.

Firstly, about developing guidelines or basic parameters and to undertake a study to measure the impact of healthcare costs, as I have said – and the Member has also noted – there are actually many studies available locally as well as overseas and most of them have very different methodologies as well as assumptions. In fact, it also varies according to the context. Indeed, for a parameter, for instance, value of statistical life that is used to estimate health costs in terms of mortality, there is quite a bit of debate on this itself and in fact misunderstanding, even among the academics.

Given this, as well as the fact that such studies are multidisciplinary, so you would need experts in epidemiology, economics and so on, and you will spend many years. These studies are therefore specific to each different context. Hence, we continue to look at these studies and consider the findings. At the end of the day, if there are some methodologies which we think would be useful, we could consider that. But at the current moment, we think that what is important is the fact that there is global scientific consensus, as articulated by WHO, that there is significant impact of air pollution on healthcare and health itself, and the costs. Therefore, we undertake very robust measures and policies to safeguard our air quality. We have done that for years.

The Member also asked about policy levers. We do have many policy levers. For domestic sources of air pollution, the key sources will be industries as well as vehicles. And we have been tightening industrial emission standards as well as for vehicles. For vehicles, we now have a policy of no more internal combustible engine (ICE) cars by 2040, for instance. That will help to improve air quality, in particular, particulate matter. So, we will continue to tighten measures and regulations as much as we can.

One thing we also need to understand is that for a small island city-state like Singapore, our sources of pollution are not just domestic – which is, generally, something that we can better control – but also transboundary. In any measure that we implement, we also have to consider that.

On progress to achieve the full air quality standards as in our Sustainable Singapore Blueprint 2015 – we have not quite reached the standard for PM2.5. We have achieved the standards for some of the other pollutants but not PM2.5 or PM10. But as I have said, we are working on looking at how we can continue to improve. As we implement and encourage the adoption of, say, cleaner vehicles, that will also help us with the index for PM2.5.

I think that is about it. As for the Member’s fourth supplementary question on WHO, I have answered that, too.

Ministry of Sustainability and the Environment
28 November 2022

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