By TESSA OH
MARCH 21, 2021
- Remediation works at the old Kallang Gasworks started last year and is expected to end in 2022
- Some residents reported falling ill more often due to the fumes from the site
- The authorities said the air released is treated and does not pose adverse health risks
- They have also put in place mitigation measures in response to feedback from the public
SINGAPORE — Some residents living near the site of the former Kallang Gasworks, which is being remade into a residential precinct, are growing increasingly frustrated at what they described as a noxious smell and incessant noise from the construction site.
Since work on the land began more than a year ago, they have done everything from buying air purifiers to switching on their air-conditioners all day to keep out the smell and noise, to little avail.
Some reported falling ill more often in recent months with cough, nose and eye irritation and other ailments.
In responding to the complaints, the authorities maintain that the gas released into the air is treated and emissions are well within regulatory limits. There is also no evidence to suggest the fumes from the site directly resulted in the health complaints reported by residents.
The former Kallang Gasworks occupied a 3.14ha site along the Rochor river since 1862, and ceased operations more than a century later in 1998. It was demolished in 2003.
Remediation works to remove the chemicals in the soil on the site started in February last year.
Following the works, which are expected to complete by end-2022, the land will be redeveloped into a car-lite waterfront district with about 4,000 new private residential units.
CONCERNS OF RESIDENTS
Located within a 100m radius of the old Kallang Gasworks are 3,550 residents from three private condominiums and six Housing and Development Board (HDB) blocks.
They are Citylights Condominium, Kallang Riverside Condominium, Southbank Condominium, HDB Blocks 466 to 468 on Crawford Lane, and HDB Blocks 813 to 815 on Jellicoe Road.
Some residents said they have been at the mercy of the fumes from the construction site since February last year when the remediation works began.
And because the remediation system operates round-the-clock, the residents only get respite when the wind is not blowing the fumes in the direction of where they live.
They have experienced symptoms such as runny nose, cough, nausea and breathing difficulties.
They have also been disturbed at all hours by loud noise.
One resident at Block 468, who wanted to be known only as Mr H Teo, 36, said he has experienced allergy-like symptoms since the construction work began.
The investment professional showed TODAY a memo from a doctor dated April 10 last year which states that he experienced irritations to his eyes and nose, and an eyelid infection, which the doctor noted is likely due to exposure to air pollution.
These symptoms have been persistent, said Mr Teo, who visited the doctor again on Wednesday (March 17).
Some residents have resorted to shutting the windows and switching the air-conditioner on all day to minimise the effects of the fumes, though to no avail.
This was the case for one resident who lives at Citylights condominium and wanted to be known only as Mdm Wang.
The 49-year-old homemaker, who has lived there for three years, said her husband visited the doctor twice last year because he started to have allergy-like symptoms such as irritation in his eyes and runny nose.
At their wits’ end, a group of residents have rallied together and created a Facebook group, called Smelly Air from old Kallang Gasworks site, to urge the authorities to take the matter seriously.
Even so, some residents like retiree Tng Ah Chio, 70, told TODAY that they have not noticed any foul smells in the area.
Mdm Tng, who lives at Block 467 at Crawford Lane, said she assumed any odours detected in the area were from wet dirt after it rains.
THE AUTHORITIES SAY...
In response to TODAY’s queries, a Singapore Land Authority (SLA) spokesperson said emissions and intermittent odours are to be expected during the course of the soil remediation works, as with any construction site.
It added that the air released has been treated and does not pose any adverse health risks to the community working and living in the area.
Still, in response to the 139 reports it received from the public between February and June last year, the authority took steps to mitigate the effects of the odour and noise coming from the site.
For instance, a new treatment system was put in place to remove odour-causing compounds.
To mitigate the noise, SLA replaced the old generators with new models while additional soundproof padding was also placed around noise generating equipment.
These measures were put in place between June 19 and Dec 13 last year when the remediation works were suspended due to prevailing Covid-19 restrictions.
SLA said that since it rolled out these changes and restarted works on Dec 14, the number of complaints it received dropped to 25 as of Thursday.
The National Environment Agency said it has assessed that both the noise levels and emission readings from the remediation site were within its regulatory limits.
Air quality readings for March shown to TODAY for the chemicals carbon monoxide, nitrogen oxide and sulphur oxide, and daily maximum volatile organic compounds or hydrocarbon emissions, were well within limits.
For instance, the nitrogen oxide readings for March 2 to 9 were within the 50mg/m³ to 100mg/m³ range, below the 400mg/m³ limit.
SLA also provided TODAY noise meter readings from the three condominiums from 7pm to 6am from Oct 26 to Nov 4 last year, and from March 4 to 10 this year.
The charts for all three locations showed that the noise meter readings for both periods did not exceed the limits set by NEA.
SLA declined to provide the readings for before the mitigating measures were put in place.
Some residents have asked if the remediation works can be conducted off-site.
To this, Ms Thong Wai Lin, assistant chief executive for land operations at SLA, said off-site treatment would require a large excavation area and this would leave more soil exposed, resulting in odour emitted that is more difficult to control.
She added that the treatment process would still run at all hours to prevent cross-contamination between excavated and non-excavated areas.
Trucks will be needed to transport the contaminated soil, and this will lead to heavy traffic in the area and it is possible that odours will waft into the residential areas as the trucks pass by.
WHAT EXPERTS SAY
Associate Professor Loo Chian Min, a respiratory and critical care specialist from Singapore General Hospital, said there is a low likelihood that the works pose adverse health risks to the residents in the area, based on the readings provided to him by the authorities.
Assoc Prof Loo, who was present at a meeting SLA held for residents, said: “Everyone reacts differently to smell, and some are more sensitive compared with others.
“Therefore, some residents may experience some slight discomfort due to the odour, but this does not mean that it will pose health risks.”
Engineering firm Aecom, an independent consultant engaged by SLA, agreed that the data does not indicate long-term adverse health effects on the people living and working in the area.
Dr Steve Yang, a respiratory specialist from Mount Elizabeth Hospital, told TODAY that though the readings are below the regulatory standards, prolonged exposure could still result in one developing respiratory symptoms.
This will depend on several factors, such as how susceptible the person is to the emissions, the wind direction, how far away the person lives from the site, and whether the person already has any underlying diseases, he said.
Responding to TODAY’s queries, the area’s Member of Parliament (MP) Denise Phua said she has held four discussions with SLA to flag the concerns raised by residents.
“The agencies have taken the feedback seriously,” the Jalan Besar Group Representation Constituency MP said. “SLA especially agrees with my position that there must not be any adverse health risks to the residents.”
SOME RESIDENTS DISAPPOINTED
On Saturday, SLA held a two-hour closed-door meeting with eight residents. Representatives from NEA, Aecom and the site contractor Swee Builders were also present.
During the meeting, SLA provided explanations for the mitigating measures it has put in place to address the issue. Residents asked what more will be done to alleviate the persistent problem.
"We assured them that SLA and our contractor maintains round-the-clock monitoring to ensure that the noise and odour readings continue to be within safety limits,” said SLA.
Speaking to TODAY after the meeting, some residents said they were disappointed that the authorities were not prepared to share what further steps they will take to improve the situation.
While they acknowledged that the authorities have put in place measures to address the problem, and some improvements can be seen, they said the solutions have not gone far enough and they are still suffering from the noxious odour and noise.
Said Kallang Riverside resident CT Liu, 59: “We are not looking for trouble, we are appealing for help. We are suffering. We need help, that’s all we are asking for.”