Clean Air Act of 1971

Singapore Infopedia


The Clean Air Act was passed by parliament on 2 December 1971.1 It was Singapore’s earliest attempt to control industrial pollution just as the country was industrialising rapidly. As early as 1967, the pace of industrialisation in Singapore had prompted the World Health Organisation (WHO) to highlight the likely increase in air pollution in Singapore as well as the accompanying health risks.2 While the problem of air pollution was not yet significant, Singapore was advised to take substantive preventive measures to ensure that an unhealthy situation did not develop.

act came at a time when there was growing international concern about industrial pollution.3 In December 1970, WHO began compiling data on air pollution in industrialised areas worldwide.4 That same month, Japan passed strong anti-pollution measures.5

The Clean Air Act gave the government the power to control air pollution caused by industrial and trade premises.6
The act required the occupiers of industrial or trade premises to maintain and operate the equipment on their premises in such a manner as to meet certain air quality standards.7

Regulations set out the types of equipment and fuels to be used and regulated the emission of impurities into the air. The
Director for Act Pollution Control and other authorised officials had the power to inspect premises and fine those not conforming to the regulations a sum not exceeding S$10,000, and S$500 per day for each subsequent day that the offence continued to be performed.8

The Clean Air Act was superseded by the
Environmental Pollution Control Act 1999.9 This new act brought together the scattered pollution control regulations into one.10

Need to combat air pollution
Before the Clean Air Act, there was a general provision in the Local Government Integration Ordinance, 1963, that broadly forbade the discharge of pollutants in a quantity that would be a nuisance or dangerous to health. These provisions were subsequently incorporated into the Environmental Public Health Act, 1968. Enforcement of these provisions were conducted first by the Director, Medical Services, and then by the Commissioner of Public Health. These provisions did not have established emission standards and were highly subjective which made enforcement ineffective.11

The absence of effective legislation in Singapore and the country’s accelerating pace of industrialisation made the issue of controlling air pollution more urgent with growing awareness of the dangers of air pollution. In 1968, the United Nations (UN), with the aid of the British Ministry of Overseas Development sent an expert, Alfred Edward John Pettet from England, to advise Singapore on how to deal with water and air pollution.12

1970, Graham J. Cleary, a WHO expert, arrived to advise the government on establishing an air pollution control authority and monitoring stations as well as to draft control legislation.13 Cleary conducted a month-long survey and published a report in which he laid down guidelines for the setting up of an air pollution control unit, requirements for monitoring efforts, air pollution legislation, future consultancy work as well as general public education.14

The Anti-Pollution Unit (APU) in the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) was set up in early 1970
on an ad-hoc basis before it was formally approved by parliament in April 1971.15 The anti-pollution drive was personally led by then Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew to indicate the importance given to the issue by the government.16 In October 1971, Haji Ya’acob Mohamed, then Minister of State in the PMO, was named as anti-pollution chief.17

Further consultancy work on air pollution control in Jurong industrial estate was  conducted
in May 1970 by Werner Strauss, an Australian expert on air pollution, under the Colombo Plan scholarship.18 In October 1970, yet another visiting WHO expert, Masami Hashimoto, who was then the head of Japan’s Public Health Practice Department, called on Singapore to act to counter growing pollution.19 Monitoring of pollution levels began and was carried out by the Public Utilities Board (PUB).20

By end-1970,
then Minister for Health Chua Sian Chin announced the government’s plan to introduce legislation on air pollution based on the data collected by the PUB.21

Introduction of Clean Air Act

The Clean Air Bill was introduced in parliament and given its first reading by Haji Ya’acob Mohamed on 19 October 1971.22 In the second reading, Ya’acob explained that there was a need to conserve the Singapore environment in the light of rapid industrialisation and rising air pollution to ensure that Singapore  remained a healthy and pleasant place to live in. He noted that Singapore was still in the early stages of industrialisation and had yet to experience the serious consequences of industrial pollution and it could learn from the unhealthy smog in highly industrialised centres like London, Tokyo and New York.23 Ya’acob also pointed out that air pollution caused by motor vehicles and ships was not included in the bill as they were already covered by other ordinances.24 The bill was then passed with only one minor technical amendment, and it was promulgated on 21 December 1971.25

On 11 January 1972,
the Clean Air (Standards) Regulations were established.26 These regulations established the allowable emission levels for various industrial pollutants, and made possible the enforcement of the Clean Air Act.27 On 25 January 1973, the Clean Air (Prohibition on the Use of Open Fires) Order was added to the act. The ordinance prohibited open fires on industrial or trade premises except for the purposes of fire fighting practices, and the disposal of tail gases from industrial plants.28

New factories with a high pollution potential came under scrutiny. Under the Clean Air Act, it was mandatory for new factories
to install air pollution controls. Appropriate siting of these factories was also looked into. Existing factories were asked to install the proper control equipment.29 A grace period of six months was given, and factories were expected to comply with the new regulations by June 1972.30

Prosecutions against factories for offences under the Clean Air Act and Clean Air Order began in 1973. There was a total of 137 convictions and fines amounted to  S$177,960.31
Of those, 130 prosecutions were for violations of the Clean Air (Prohibition of the Use of Open Fires) Order, and seven for the Clean Air Act.32 This was to drop to 35 and five prosecutions respectively the following year, with fines coming up to a total of S$46,200.33 In 1975, there were 44 prosecutions for open fire offences and four for offences under the Clean Air Act with the total fine amount dropping to S$41,850.34 By 1976, there were 56 prosecutions for open fire offences, and only three for offences under the Clean Air Act, with the total fine amount dropping further to S$26,610.35  

The act and the regulations were also amended between 1973 and 1978 to make for more effective enforcement and better control of air pollution.36 The Clean Air (Amendment) Act was promulgated on 18 April 1975.37 Construction sites and their polluting activities came under the act’s purview. Occupiers of polluting premises became responsible for ensuring that their processes were not obsolete or inefficient, and the amendments included a presumptive clause that made occupiers responsible for open burning practices until the contrary was proven.38

The Clean Air (Standards) Regulations were amended on 27 February 1978.39 One amendment was made to “provide for stricter control over the emission of certain air pollutants such as dust, acid gases, chlorine, carbon monoxide, etc.”.40 Finally, on 1 May 1980, the Schedule to the Clean Air Act was amended to “provide for stricter control over those premises being used for the storage of large quantities of toxic or volatile chemicals”.41

The enforcement of the Clean Air Act along with the efforts of the APU and other agencies saw air pollution coming under control in Singapore. In 1972, the government was able to announce that there was no immediate threat of smog in Singapore due to the effectiveness of the

Throughout the 1970s, ambient air monitoring conducted by the APU saw pollution levels remaining constant and within the limits set by the WHO long-term goals.43
 There was little change in the amount of pollutants in the air, except for an 8 percent increase in acidity levels in 1976 which was corrected the following year.44 The air pollution controls proved so effective that by 1983, air in Jurong, near the industrial estate was reported to be as clean, if not cleaner, than air elsewhere in Singapore.45

The Clean Air Act was repealed on 11 February 1999 when
parliament passed the Environmental Pollution Control Act 1999 (EPC Act).46 This new act consolidated the various pollution controls scattered in different acts into a single act to give the Ministry of Environment additional powers to control or prohibit the emission of any particular air pollutant from any industrial or trade premise.47

Shaun Oon & Kartini Binte Saparudin

1. The Clean Air Act 1971, Act 29 of 1971, Government Gazette. Acts Supplement, 287–300. (Call no. RSING 348.5957 SGGAS)
2. “Industrialisation Poses New Problems, Says Dy,” Straits Times, 17 March 1967, 4. (From NewspaperSG)
3. Anti-Pollution Unit, Singapore, Annual Report 1970–1972 (Singapore: Anti-Pollution Unit, 1973), 2. (Call no. RCLOS 354.5957068232 SAPUR)
4. “WHO Plan to Compile Data on Rate of Air Pollution,” Straits Times, 17 August 1970, 3. (From NewspaperSG)
5. Geoffrey Murray, “Pollution: It’s a Crime Now in Japan,” Straits Times, 24 December 1970, 12. (From NewspaperSG)
6. Anti-Pollution Unit, Singapore, Annual Report 1970–1972, 2.
7. The Clean Air Act 1971, Government Gazette. Acts Supplement, 293–9.
8. The Clean Air Act 1971, Government Gazette. Acts Supplement, 293–9.
9. The Environmental Pollution Control Act 1999, Act 9 of 1999, Government Gazette. Acts Supplement, 109–89. (Call no. RSING 348.5957 SGGAS)
10. Parliament of Singapore, Second Reading of the Environmental Pollution Control Act, vol. 69 of Parliamentary Debates: Official Report, 11 February 1999, cols. 2039–85. (Call no. RCLOS 328.5957 SIN)
11. Anti-Pollution Unit, Singapore, Annual Report 1970–1972, 31.
12. “Expert Here This Week,” Straits Times, 29 March 1968, 12. (From NewspaperSG)
13. “Plan By Expert to Fight Air Pollution,” Straits Times, 14 October 1971, 17. (From NewspaperSG)
14. Graham J. Cleary, Air Pollution Control: Preliminary Assessment of Air Pollution in Singapore (Singapore: Government Printing Office, 1971). (Call no. RSING 614.71 CLE)
15. Anti-Pollution Unit, Singapore, Annual Report 1970–1972, 2.
16. William Campbell, “Getting ‘On Top of Old Smokey’,” Straits Times, 23 April 1970, 9. (From NewspaperSG)
17. “A Supremo to Fight Pollution,” Straits Times, 6 October 1971, 1. (From NewspaperSG)
18. Campbell, “Getting ‘On Top of Old Smokey’.”
19. Lim Suan Koi, “Singapore Urged to Act Fast on Pollution,” Straits Times, 28 October 1970, 5. (From NewspaperSG)
20. “Law to Fight Air Pollution Plan By Govt,” Straits Times, 4 November 1970, 5. (From NewspaperSG)
21. “Law to Fight Air Pollution Plan”; “Clean Air Bill,” Straits Times, 1 October 1971, 19. (From NewspaperSG)
22. Parliament of Singapore, First Reading of the Clean Air Bill, vol. 31 of Parliamentary Debates: Official Report, 19 October 1971, col. 307 (Call no. RSING 328.5957 SIN); Parliament of Singapore, Second Reading of the Clean Air Bill, vol. 31 of Parliamentary Debates: Official Report, 19 October 1971, col. 447–53. (Call no. RSING 328.5957 SIN)
23. Parliament of Singapore, Second Reading of the Clean Air Bill, cols. 447–50.
24. Parliament of Singapore, Second Reading of the Clean Air Bill, cols. 450–52.
25. The Clean Air Act 1971, Government Gazette. Acts Supplement, 287–300.
26. The Clean Air (Standards) Regulation 1972, Sp.S 14/1972, Government Gazette. Subsidiary Legislation Supplement, 14 January 1972, 15–19. (Call no. RSING 348.5957 SGGSLS)
27. “Clean Air Fine of $5,000,” Straits Times, 17 January 1972, 9. (From NewspaperSG)
28. The Clean Air (Prohibition on the Use of Open Fires) Order, Sp.S 43/1978, Government Gazette. Subsidiary Legislation Supplement, 26 January 1973, 123–4. (Call no. RSING 348.5957 SGGSLS)
29. Anti-Pollution Unit, Singapore, Annual Report 1970–1972, 3.
30. “Air Pollution Controls a Must Within Six Months,” Straits Times, 10 February 1972, 8. (From NewspaperSG)
31. Anti-Pollution Unit, Singapore, Annual Report 1974 (Singapore: Anti-Pollution Unit, 1975), 1–2. (Call no. RCLOS 354.5957068232 SAPUR)
32. Anti-Pollution Unit, Singapore, Annual Report 1974, 1.
33. Anti-Pollution Unit, Singapore, Annual Report 1973 (Singapore: Anti-Pollution Unit, 1974), 1. (Call no. RCLOS 354.5957068232 SAPUR)
34. Anti-Pollution Unit, Singapore, Annual Report 1975 (Singapore: Anti-Pollution Unit, 1976), 2. (Call no. RCLOS 354.5957068232 SAPUR)
35. Anti-Pollution Unit, Singapore, Annual Report 1975, 2.
36. Anti-Pollution Unit, Singapore, Annual Report 1975, 1.
37. The Clean Air (Amendment) Act 1975, Act 5 of 1975, Government Gazette. Acts Supplement, 21–5. (Call no. RSING 348.5957 SGGAS)
38. Parliament of Singapore, Second Reading of the Clean Air (Amendment) Bill, vol. 34 of Parliamentary Debates: Official Report, 26 March 1975, cols. 1034–6. (Call no. RSING 328.5957 SIN)
39. The Clean Air (Standards) (Amendment) Regulation 1978, Sp.S 38/1973, Government Gazette. Subsidiary Legislation Supplement, 10 March 1978, 51. (Call no. RSING 348.5957 SGGSLS)
40. Anti-Pollution Unit, Singapore, Annual Report 1979 (Singapore: Anti-Pollution Unit, 1980), 16. (Call no. RCLOS 354.5957068232 SAPUR)
41. The Clean Air Act (Amendment of Schedule) Notification, Sp.S 127/1980, Government Gazette. Subsidiary Legislation Supplement, 2 May 1980, 469 (Call no. RSING 348.5957 SGGSLS); Anti-Pollution Unit, Singapore, Annual Report 1980 (Singapore: Anti-Pollution Unit, 1981), 18. (Call no. RCLOS 354.5957068232 SAPUR)
42. “No Smog Peril – Air over Singapore Getting Cleaner,” (1972, March 16). Straits Times, 16 March 1972, 5. (From NewspaperSG)
43. Anti-Pollution Unit, Singapore, Annual Report 1970–1980 (Singapore: Anti-Pollution Unit, 1973–1981). (Call no. RCLOS 354.5957068232 SAPUR)
44. Anti-Pollution Unit, Singapore, Annual Report 1976, 1977 (Singapore: Anti-Pollution Unit, 1977–1978). (Call no. RCLOS 354.5957068232 SAPUR)
45. Ronnie Wai, “Air in Jurong Just as Clean,” Straits Times, 14 April 1983, 12. (From NewspaperSG)
46. The Environmental Pollution Control Act 1999, Government Gazette. Acts Supplement, 109–89.
47. Parliament of Singapore, First Reading of the Environmental Pollution Control Act, vol. 69 of Parliamentary Debates: Official Report, 20 January 1999, cols. 1903 (Call no. RCLOS 328.5957 SIN); Parliament of Singapore, Second Reading of the Environmental Pollution Control Act, cols. 2040–1.

The information in this article is valid as of 4 April 2014 and correct as far as we are able to ascertain from our sources. It is not intended to be an exhaustive or complete history of the subject. Please contact the Library for further reading materials on the topic.


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