'Hazardous' Haze Forces Malaysia To Shut Schools

By: Posted By Jovarie Downing
By: Posted By Jovarie Downing
Schools in many areas of Malaysia were closed on Monday after air pollution caused by forest fires in neighboring Indonesia spiked to hazardous levels over the weekend.

The combo photo shows Malaysia's landmark Petronas Twin Tower and KL Tower in the Kuala Lumpur city center on Wednesday, Feb. 22, 2006, top, and on Monday, Oct. 16, 2006, bottom. Land-clearing fires Indonesia has drifted over and polluted skies over the past three weeks. (AP Photo/Vincent Thian)

(CNN) -- Schools in many areas of Malaysia were closed on Monday after air pollution caused by forest fires in neighboring Indonesia spiked to hazardous levels over the weekend.

On Sunday morning, Malaysia declared a state of emergency in two southern regions as the country's air pollution scale exceeded 700, Bernama, Malaysia's state news agency reported. According to the index, a reading above 300 is considered hazardous.

Schools were closed in the capital Kuala Lumpur and several states on Monday and workplaces in the two districts affected by the state of emergency were advised to shut, Bernama also reported.

"The schools are ordered to be closed as a precautionary measure since the bad air quality will affect the health of students," Second Education Minister Datuk Seri Idris Jusoh said.

By Monday morning, the haze eased, with the pollution scale in one of the worst-hit areas falling to 148.

READ: Singapore chokes on haze

Haze hangs over Singapore.

iReporter trapped inside because of smog Fires have raged in several spots on the island of Sumatra for more than a week, spreading acrid smoke to Singapore and Malaysia.

On Monday, rain was reported in some areas, according to Indonesia's National Disaster Management Agency.

Authorities have been using three helicopters to "water bomb" the flames and in the past four days 7,000 liters of water have been dumped on the areas hit by the fires.

A Cassa aircraft is also being used to seed clouds in attempt to create rain.

Shifting winds allowed Singapore, which has been enveloped in smog for most of last week, to breathe easier.

The city's air pollution index stood at 52 at 11 a.m. local time on Monday, falling after the wind direction changed to southerly from southwesterly on Sunday.

Last week, the index hit its highest levels since 1997, with a reading of 371. The city's National Environment Agency said air quality becomes "very unhealthy" when the index passes 200.

According to the US-based World Resources Institute, most of the fires are on land owned or managed by timber companies and palm oil plantation owners.

Last week, it released a list of 17 timber companies and 15 palm oil plantation operators, including two headquartered in Singapore.

The chief of Indonesia's National Disaster Agency, Syamsul Maarif, said on Saturday that the government is investigating which companies operating in Sumatra may have caused the fires.

Singapore said it would take legal action against local companies found to be involved and pressed Indonesia to provide evidence, the New Straits Times reported.

"We will offer no succor or refuge if the action of the companies have indeed been illegal in Indonesia and impacted on Singapore," Foreign Minister K. Shanmugam said.

The minister added that he would raise the issue at the upcoming meeting of foreign ministers from the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN).

Authorities in Singapore are anxious to avoid a repeat of the 1997 Southeast Asian haze, which the government estimates cost $9 billion in health care costs and disrupted air travel and business.

Journalist Katie Hunt wrote and reported from Hong Kong, CNN's Kathy Quiano reported from Jakarta

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