Air Pollution Index

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The Air Pollution Index (API) is a simple and generalized way to describe the air quality, which is used in Malaysia. It is calculated from several sets of air pollution data. It was formerly used in mainland China and Hong Kong. In mainland China the API was replaced by an updated Air Quality Index in early 2012[1] and on 30 December 2013 Hong Kong moved to a health based index.[2]


The air quality in Malaysia is reported as the API (Air Pollutant Index) or in Malay as IPU (Indeks Pencemaran Udara). Four of the index's pollutant components (i.e., carbon monoxide, ozone, nitrogen dioxide and sulfur dioxide) are reported in ppmv but PM10 particulate matter is reported in μg/m3.[3]

This scale below shows the Health classifications used by the Malaysian government.


Air Pollution Level

0 - 50 Good
51 - 100 Moderate
101 - 200 Unhealthy
201 - 300 Very unhealthy
301 - 500 Hazardous
500+ Emergency

If the API exceeds 500, a state of emergency is declared in the reporting area. Usually, this means that non-essential government services are suspended, and all ports in the affected area are closed. There may also be a prohibition on private sector commercial and industrial activities in the reporting area excluding the food sector.

The highest API value ever recorded was 1,986 in Palangkaraya on 22 September 2015 during the 2015 Southeast Asian haze.[4]

Former indices[edit]


China's State Environment Protection Agency (SEPA) is responsible for measuring the level of air pollution in China. As of 28 August 2008, SEPA monitored daily pollution level in 86 of its major cities. The AQI level was based on the level of 5 atmospheric pollutants, namely sulfur dioxide (SO2), nitrogen dioxide (NO2), suspended particulates (PM10), carbon monoxide (CO), and ozone (O3) measured at the monitoring stations throughout each city.[5]

AQI Mechanics
An individual score is assigned to the level of each pollutant and the final AQI is the highest of those 5 scores. The pollutants can be measured quite differently. SO2, NO2 and PM10 concentration are measured as average per day. CO and O3 are more harmful and are measured as average per hour. The final AQI value is calculated per day.

The scale for each pollutant is non-linear, as is the final AQI score. Thus an AQI of 100 does not mean twice the pollution of AQI at 50, nor does it mean twice as harmful. While an AQI of 50 from day 1 to 182 and AQI of 100 from day 183 to 365 does provide an annual average of 75, it does not mean the pollution is acceptable even if the benchmark of 100 is deemed safe. This is because the benchmark is a 24-hour target. The annual average must match against the annual target. It is entirely possible to have safe air every day of the year but still fail the annual pollution benchmark.[5]

AQI and Health Implications (Daily Targets)[5]

AQI Air Pollution
Health Implications
0 - 50 Excellent No health implications
51 -100 Good No health implications
101-150 Slightly Polluted Slight irritations may occur, individuals with breathing or heart problems should reduce outdoor exercise.
151-200 Lightly Polluted Slight irritations may occur, individuals with breathing or heart problems should reduce outdoor exercise.
201-250 Moderately Polluted Healthy people will be noticeably affected. People with breathing or heart problems will experience reduced endurance in activities. These individuals and elders should remain indoors and restrict activities.
251-300 Heavily Polluted Healthy people will be noticeably affected. People with breathing or heart problems will experience reduced endurance in activities. These individuals and elders should remain indoors and restrict activities.
300+ Severely Polluted Healthy people will experience reduced endurance in activities. There may be strong irritations and symptoms and may trigger other illnesses. Elders and the sick should remain indoors and avoid exercise. Healthy individuals should avoid out door activities.

Hong Kong[edit]

The API was in use in Hong Kong from June 1995 to December 2013. It was measured and updated hourly by the Environmental Protection Department (EPD). Moreover, the EPD made forecasts of the API for the following day everyday.

The API was based on the level of 6 atmospheric pollutants, namely sulphur dioxide (SO2), nitrogen dioxide (NO2), respirable suspended particulates, carbon monoxide (CO), ozone (O3), lead (Pb), measured at all the monitoring stations throughout the territory.[6] It was replaced by the Air Quality Health Index on the 30th December 2013.

There are 11 General Stations and 3 Roadside Stations. The former includes Central / Western, Eastern, Kwai Chung, Kwun Tong, Sha Tin, Sham Shui Po, Tai Po, Tap Mun, Tsuen Wan, Tung Chung, and Yuen Long; the latter Causeway Bay, Central, and Mong Kok.[7]

In Hong Kong, there were two types of API: General API and Roadside API. The EPD reported the latest APIs hourly.

The index and the air quality objectives were set in 1987; and pollutant levels are measured over varying periods, in μg/m3. There are hourly, 24-hour and annual targets for sulfur dioxide and nitrogen dioxide, and 24-hour and annual targets for particulates.

The table below shows the official Health Implications of the respective AQHI levels in Hong Kong.



Air Pollution
Health Implications;
1,2,3 Low Not expected.
4,5,6 Medium Not expected for the general population.
7 High Acute health effects are not expected but chronic effects may be observed if one is persistently exposed to such levels.
8,9,10 Very High People with existing heart or respiratory illnesses may notice mild aggravation of their health conditions. Generally healthy individuals may also notice some discomfort.
10+ Severe People with existing heart or respiratory illnesses may experience significant aggravation of their symptoms. There may also be widespread symptoms in the healthy population (e.g. eye irritation, wheezing, coughing, phlegm and sore throats).

In 1998, the Education Bureau's recommended schools to curtail outdoor activities when the index reached 200, whereas leading healthcare advocates are urging that the level be revised to 100.[8] The World Health Organisation revised its air quality guideline levels of sulfur dioxide, nitrogen dioxide and ozone in 2006 in light of new scientific evidence. The WHO also introduced new measurement guidelines for very small particulates which are more dangerous to pulmonary function. At the '200' level, Hong Kong levels of SO2 (800μg/m3) and NO2 (1,130μg/m3) are 40 times and 5½ times WHO guidelines respectively; the equivalent for particulates (350μg/m3) is 7 times WHO guidelines.[6]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Hsu, Angel. "China's new Air Quality Index: How does it measure up?". Retrieved 8 February 2014. 
  2. ^ "About AQHI". Environmental Protection Department. Retrieved 8 February 2014. 
  3. ^ "General Information of Air Pollutant Index". Department of Environment, Malaysia. Retrieved 8 February 2014. 
  4. ^ Ahmad, Asmala and Hashim, Mazlan and Hashim, Md Noorazuan and Ayof, Mohd Nizam and Budi, Agus Setyo (2006), The Use of Remote Sensing and GIS to Estimate Air Quality Index (AQI) Over Peninsular Malaysia. GIS development . 5pp.
  5. ^ a b c
  6. ^ a b Pollution index based on index set 20 years ago, p5, South China Morning Post, 30 September 2007
  7. ^ "Air Pollution Index". Environmental Protection Department. 2004. Archived from the original on 10 April 2007. Retrieved 18 April 2007. 
  8. ^ Foul-air gauge for pupils too high, say critics, p5, South China Morning Post, 30 September 2007

External links[edit]