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An Open Letter to Minister of Transport Raymond Lim

Dear Mr Raymond Lim,

I would like to kindly bring your attention to the construction of the North South Expressway along Ang Mo Kio Avenue 6.

 

When I wrote in to your fellow colleagues at LTA regarding the construction of the North South Expressway (NSE) and its possible prospective impact on the residents of Nuovo Executive Condominium, LTA only referred me to the link of your speech in Parliament on 14 February 2011 which I will now draw references to.

In your speech, you mentioned that the government had proceeded with NSE project after “careful planning and deliberation” which included factors such as compulsory land acquisition, to mitigate possible disamenities that could arise as well as aiming to adopt the most cost-effective solutions.

However, the health and welfare of Nuovo residents who are affected by the noise and air pollution are potentially and indefinitely put at risk as well, so long as they continue living there. LTA’s response to the residents with regards to their primary concern of health impacts especially on their wives and children is unsettling.

I quote the Nuovo residents’ first appeal letter sent on 2 February 2011:

“Countless medical studies have shown that living within close proximity of expressway increases health risks to the individual. These risks include cancer, asthma, pre-mature birth and autism. As parents, we are concerned that our children will be increasingly subjected to these health risks as a result of the expressway construction.”

To cite a few medical report findings the residents presented:

Source: wcct.com
  • Children who live within 250 yards of a road with 20,000 or more vehicles per day, are eight times more likely to get leukemia and six times more likely to get other forms of cancer. Most of this risk is attributed to the VOCs in motor vehicle exhaust. As the graphics below shows, roadways create a corridor of pollution for the drivers and residents nearby.
  • Children born to mothers living within 309 meters of a freeway appeared to be twice as likely to have autism.
  • Children who lived in census tracts facing the intersection with major highways or railways had about 40 to 70 percent increased risk of developing childhood asthma.
  • • Women living near major highways were 15 to 20 per cent more likely to deliver prematurely or have low birth weight babies than other women.”

Instead, this is what LTA replied on 22 February to their first appeal:

“We share your concerns about pollution. NEA monitors the ambient air quality and controls the emissions generated by motor vehicles. In operating the NSE, we wish to assure you that LTA will fully comply with NEA’s standards.

We would also like to assure you that the opening for the semi-tunnel actually serves as an air-intake and is not dispel air out of the semi-tunnel under normal operations. The air that will enter the semi-tunnel will be directed by ventilation fans in the semi-tunnel into the full tunnels and towards the ventilation buildings for extraction.”

This reply entirely negates the concerns addressed. Yes, those above may be just statistics but the fact is these risks exist.

As it is, there are currently several residents whom I spoke to, their wives had just given birth in the last month or two and such issues are of particular significance to them. Another resident Mr Darren Lim is asthmatic, has two children and his wife is currently pregnant. He had just moved into Nuovo 15 months back but has now after the failed appeal decided to put his apartment up for sale. He is worried, like the other residents.

Of course, Nuovo residents understand that from the government’s perspective, national interests are at stake and hence they are not appealing to stop the construction of NSE entirely. Instead, as in their first appeal, they put forth a proposal to extend the full underground tunnel from Anderson Junior College to the intersection of Yio Chu Kang road. This proposal was turned down by LTA for various reasons.

Like one resident told me, “We don’t want to just be told we cannot do this. We want to know why.”

Other concerns that the residents have include the following:

(1)   The effectiveness of noise barriers for high rise buildings which were previously proven ineffective in Hong Kong and this was acknowledged by the National Environment Agency (NEA),

(2)  The limited ability of trees to act as noise barriers (in order for dense vegetation to be effective, at least 30-60 metres of dense vegetation is required to reduce noise by 5 dB.)

(3)  LTA’s reply to their first appeal did not address the monitoring of ambient air quality. As the residents pointed out, the air quality in Singapore is calculated using the Pollutant Standards Index (PSI), which does not measure PM2.5 levels. Instead, it measures the amount of PM10, a larger particulate matter in haze.

(4)  How emissions from motor vehicles are going to be controlled. To this, the residents are asking how would LTA ensure (monitor & enforce) that the vehicles traveling in NSE do not exceed the emission limits?

(5)  The measures taken to monitor and enforce in anticipation of the heavy traffic on NSE

(6)  Other possible land sites for ventilation building, including the land area reserved for MINDEF

The Nuovo residents also asked for an explanation of the tunnel’s design concept to achieve no leakage (e.g. engineering calculations or CFD simulations).

They requested that LTA gives them a guarantee that the air quality in the vicinity will not be worse than current levels after the NSE is opened.

In my email query to LTA, only my first question was answered through your Parliamentary speech. The remaining four questions were left unanswered. I hope that perhaps you as the Transport Minister can also take these questions that were brushed off by your fellow civil servants at LTA.

The questions are as follows:

  1. How is LTA intending to protect or minimize the health impacts on the
    residents surrounding that area once NSE is built? Are precautionary
    measures already taken?
  2. Many residents are extremely concerned over the distance between NSE and
    the boundary wall which is going to cut in to some of the Condo's land (swimming pool). What do you have to say to that?
  3. Many residents are unhappy as there was no prior notice to this plan before they bought the house, and they are questioning if sufficient consideration is given to them. Apart from the property valuation issue (which is of secondary concern to those at Nuovo), most of the families staying in Nuovo are young couples who either have young children or just gave birth. Can you comment on that i.e. what measures will be put into place to give the
    residents the peace of mind that their children's health and safety will not
    be affected as well?
  4. SLA and LTA had sent representatives down to Nuovo for a negotiation on 15 March 2011. According to a resident, the meeting ended with the representatives agreeing to arrange another round of negotiations with corporation with Nuovo’s NC, this time also including MINDEF. However, after the representatives went back, only an email was sent to the residents notifying them to arrange their own meeting. Can you explain why was the initial arrangement canceled?

I hope to receive your reply on this issue soon.

The residents are also intending to submit a second appeal soon. I sincerely hope that you can look into this matter with more consideration.

Yours Sincerely,

Deborah Choo

The Online Citizen