The political and individual will

Datuk Tan Hon Lim

Clean air is vital for our wellbeing, and indoor air constitutes a huge part of the air we breathe. Unfortunately, awareness among Malaysians on the importance of air cleanliness and what must be done to maintain air quality is low.

Some issues and solutions were discussed during the “ Roundtable 2018: Is your home a sick building?” held on April 10 at the Panasonic Home•2•Com Solution Centre in Bangsar South.

The panelists of the roundtable were S P Setia Bhd executive vice-president Datuk Tan Hon Lim, Malaysian Institute of Architects (PAM) president Ezumi Harzani Ismail, Pantai Hospital Kuala Lumpur consultant respiratory physician Dr Sundari Ampikaipakan, Architect Centre Sdn Bhd accredited building inspector and trainer Anthony Lee Tee, Henry Butcher Malaysia (Mont’Kiara) Sdn Bhd executive director Low Hon Keong and Panasonic Malaysia managing director Cheng Chee Chung.

The roundtable was moderated by managing director and editor-in-chief Au Foong Yee, and is powered by Panasonic.

Below is an excerpt of their discussions.

Au: How could an individual help himself? Gadgets and standards on quality air indoors aside, what are the top three things a person can do?

Dr Sundari: For the industry, eventually there will be measures by the government. There has got to be clean air — that really should be the goal. It is our right and freedom to have clean air. At the moment, things like clean air are quite a low priority for the government. But, I think on a personal level, like all things, it is education. It is public awareness. We can no longer consider ourselves a developing country, but a more progressive country now. So, people’s needs are changing. Hopefully, with that comes greater awareness. All these years, people don’t think about clean air and how it can affect their health, but Malaysians are becoming more empowered and educated. You can have a lovely home, a green home, and it will improve your life. But the people living in that house need to know how to maintain this beautiful green home. What do they need to do? How does air quality help you? We all know that smoking is bad for you but what about people who don’t? A lot of people do not know that second-hand smoking is bad. Your husband is there smoking and you are inhaling the air — it is bad for you. I personally feel awareness is still very low in Malaysia on a lot of levels. This is just one of them.

Au: And it is where the government must come in.

Dr Sundari: Exactly. That’s why it has got to be a policy. I mean, I know PAM has done a great initiative with the GBI, but do we actually have an environmental protection agency in the country?

Lee: We have fairly strong guidelines.

Dr Sundari: We have rules but we don’t actually have a solution.

Ezumi: We have a Jabatan Alam Sekitar.

Tan: Yes, like we should not have open burning.

Ezumi: But sometimes it [open burning] is seasonal. When everybody starts a fire or when the haze starts, then everybody takes action. Most of the time, we are blessed with clean air in our country. Nobody cares. I think we need to change from just seasonal enforcement to full-time enforcement instead.

Dr Sundari: The American environmental government agency has a wonderful website that raises public awareness such as what a safe building looks like and what we can do to prevent [unsafe buildings] and what the areas to target are. It is done in a very user-friendly manner. And that is the sort of thing we need to get the word out.

Tan: I agree with Dr Sundari that awareness is still lacking. Education must start from our children. Some of the basic things include something simple like [not] throwing rubbish and how to keep the house clean. In countries like Japan and Australia, these issues are so well under control. I think the authorities must look at it very seriously. You can hardly see any rubbish on the streets in Japan, New Zealand and Australia. When we visited one of our project sites in Australia, I just could not find any rubbish or building waste although the foundation and structural works were in progress.

[It’s] the professionalism, be it of the consultants or the contractors — they know what to do. Where can we start? Either individually, through companies or an organisation? We have a lot to do. But we can take Japan, Australia or New Zealand as reference. The government and individuals must do something.

Ezumi: It is related to the price you pay, Datuk Tan. You pay a cheap contractor, then the service is…

Tan: Not really… It depends very much on the project manager. If they want to do it, it can be done from day one. Awareness — there are a lot of programmes even by us such as interaction programmes. We even send our workers to the Construction Industry Development Board for training, health, safety and other aspects. At the same time, we cut down on labour and move towards pre-fabrication systems. We are doing this even without getting any incentive [from the government].

Au: So political will is needed to tackle the quality air issue?

Lee: I agree with Dr Sundari, that clean air is our right, but clean air is [also] part of healthy living. About homes being clutter-free... The properties we are living in are becoming smaller; we cannot afford to have clutter. In our disposable society today, we buy, buy and buy and we just try to keep things.

Another observation — the toilet used to be outside our house back then. But today, we eat out and the toilet is inside our house — it is reversed! As a result, our toilets become very grand today. But that is just the visual, because just like 100 years ago, the pipes and services are still the same. That’s why you still have people complaining about odours. You have cockroaches and flies coming. The place now is a biological hazard. Once the germs get inside your home and you leave the air-conditioner on, it is in the system. I think that is the problem with high-rise buildings.

In Japan, kids are taught from very young they need to change their slippers when they go to the washroom, and they need to wash their hands. They are obsessed about cleanliness — the education is beyond just studying.

Au: On healthy living, it is one of the pillars of Panasonic’s values, correct?

Cheng: Our mission is to enhance the quality of life of our users. The mission of our products is to provide lifetime solutions towards a healthy, comfortable lifestyle for our users. For example, many misunderstand that an air-conditioner is only to cool the air in the room. They do not know that you also need to purify the air in the room. Is the ventilation system itself enough? We want to provide a solution towards good air quality.

Another example is the fridge. We have different compartments for storing different types of food in the fridge. But everybody dumps everything into the freezer. For months, they do not open the freezer and they forget what’s inside. Again, it comes back to education. This is an ongoing process. In Malaysia, it does not seem natural to have segregation of rubbish. In Japan and in more advanced countries, it is part of their life.

Read the rest of the discussion here:  

* Know the air that you breathe
* Air pollution in Malaysia — how serious is it?
* The price of taking in filthy air
* Building design and indoor air
* Of gyms, hospitals, hotel rooms and offices
* The ‘price’ of clean air
* Wish list

This story first appeared in pullout on April 20, 2018. Download pullout here for free.

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