Monday, 16 February 2009

When residents' lives are determined by a machine and NEA

There is a construction going on just behind my backyard. For the past three years, my neighbours and I have endured the noise, the dust, the inconvenience. We have not been able to open our windows facing the construction site during this time. We have to endure the noise and dust from the piling, drilling, polishing, filing and excavation daily.

We have lovely and comfortable homes but our kids cannot stay home during the day because they cannot concentrate on their studies with that noise. They have to stay in school or go to some quiet place to study and come home after 6pm. But when the construction site worked until 10pm nightly, the kids could only come home after the noise stops. They didn't score well in their exams. One was taking GCE 'O' levels and some were taking their PSLE.

The construction workers start work at 8am, there were times they started work at 7 plus in the morning. Residents are usually woken up by the noise.

My husband and I wake up at 5.30am to prepare breakfast and send the kids off to school and we go back to sleep again. We don't have to go to work until 10.30am, we are not able to sleep early nightly because of work and grassroot commitments. Lately, we were too tired to wake up early due to lack of sleep. Even if we want to take a nap in the afternoon, there is the continuous noise. Besides naps cannot replace a good night's sleep.

My ailing elderly in-laws, both in their 90s, have not been able to live with us because the noise will send them to their graves earlier. Both my husband and I have to attend to them whenever they call. Our family unit has been broken and separated by profit-making companies and indifferent NEA staff.

A 75 year-old retired neighbour who is the most affected by this construction has a noise monitoring machine set up in his garden. The microphone was wrapped in cellophane. To prevent damage from the weather, said the man from the construction company.

A few months later, the recording device was removed and not put back. NEA staff were called in to check and nothing was done. What is the real purpose of this machine when it doesn't function?

This man is 75 years old. He and his wife planned to have a quiet and peaceful retirement but instead were forced into bitter fights with the construction company and NEA staff. The windows of their house were boarded up and sound-proof. They often have to escape their home whenever the noise gets unbearable and loiter outside until after 8pm. 3 years to the elderly is precious time wasted.

Do the people at TPS Construction, developer MCL Land and NEA look upon us residents as human beings?

Neighbours and I have feedback several times to the person in charge, foreman Neo of the construction company TPS Construction Pte Ltd. He doesn't care because he knows there's no way our woes would be taken seriously. The more we complain, the more deliberate and vicious he gets back at us.

My first feedback to Neo started end December 2007. Before that I took in the demolishing and piling works without a grumble, even when I fractured my ankle and was holed up in my bedroom for 3 months. Until they started working earlier on Sundays and public holidays and late into the nights.

I was told by foreman Neo they can only start work at 10am on Sundays and PH but work starts at 8am, even until 15th Feb morning. We tolerated it for more than 2 years. Our health suffers. We are constantly living in noise and air pollution.

They start drilling and filing at 8am and usually by the afternoon, they do quieter work. I asked the supervisors of the company to do their drilling in the afternoon or after 9am but to no avail.

Neighbours and I have written to NEA. Rahmad Sidek replied that the noise of the construction site is acceptable, without coming down to find out. He even asked me to look up the NEA website for solutions! Gosh! Now Ministries set up website so ordinary Singaporeans are supposed to read and find their answers there.

My neighbours and I read and it is all to the advantages of the companies. What about the welfare and health of the residents? Construction companies have no restrictions on the working hours for the contractors at the construction sites, within acceptable level of noise.

NEA's reply to a reader on Today forum

4 We would like to explain to you that the NEA controls construction
noise using a set of maximum permissible noise limits stipulated under
the Environmental Protection and Management (Control of Noise at
Construction Sites) Regulations. The permissible noise limits are more
stringent for the night-time (10.00pm to 7.00am) than the daytime noise
limits. The noise limits are also more stringent for premises that are
more sensitive to noise disturbances, e.g. hospital, schools. Construc
tion companies are required to take noise abatement measures and manage
their works to comply with the noise limits.
- Jothieswaran P
Chief Engineer
Pollution Control Department
The National Environment Agency

NEA's reply to me. A cut and paste standard reply.

The contractor responsible for the project at the worksite concerned has set up a noise monitoring equipment at one of the nearest residential buildings to the site, to measure the noise levels generated from the construction works on a continuous basis.

Notwithstanding that the contractor has not violated the noise permissible limits, we have advised the contractor to exercise care and be more considerate towards the neighbouring residents when carrying out their construction activities so as to minimise the noise nuisance. The contarctor has informed us that he will avoid carrying out noisy work on Sundays and Public Holidays.
- Jothieswaran P
Chief Engineer
Pollution Control Department
The National Environment Agency

What is acceptable? Being subjected to continuous drilling, filing, polishing for 3 hours non-stop is acceptable? Living in our own houses and yet we have to endure construction noises within 10m for 10 hours for 3 years is acceptable? This is unhealthy! How do you measure noise and deem it as acceptable when NEA staff just answers emails without coming to the site.

Lately the company built a covered drain structure next to our dividing wall that left residents puzzled. It is the height of a man. It is narrow, long and dark. It posses a security problem to neighbouring residents too. How are they going to clean and maintain it when they are stagnant water and dead carcasses?

Around this construction site live real people who have families, jobs, responsibilities. Our lives and health suffer having to put up with these private companies' profit making enterprise. Every day, for more than 10 hours daily, for the past 3 years, we live in this noisy environment. Our health suffers, our kids' grades suffer. We have no quality living environment despite it being a private residential area.

What I really want is for them to start their noisy construction work at 9am. Work on Sundays and PH to start at 10am. Is it that hard? Give us a break. And NEA staff please make site trips to understand the problems and frustrations faced by affected residents.

I can open up my house to let them work during their working hours so they can get a taste of the affected residents' miseries these 3 years. They cannot know what we have to go through when they only have to sit in their comfortable air-con offices.

noisy work right below my window at 8.05am Saturday

On 15th Feb (Sunday), the construction site started work at 8.03am. On 14th Feb (Saturday), it was 8.05am. Monday (16th Feb) morning, it was at 7.54am.

The construction company is not going to listen nor care for the health of the residents. They are not going to be penalised. And they are getting malicious. This is harassment. They can do anything they want because NEA is not able to do anything.

I called Khairul on 11th Feb morning and asked for a meeting between the affected residents and construction company with NEA staff as mediator. He said he would get back to me but ignored me and until now, there was no response.

He has my number, NEA has my address yet nothing is being done. This is feedback from ordinary citizens. Such problems are not going to go away when NEA brushes aside the feedback because there are many more construction projects all over Singapore.

Broadbased participation and ownership is ever important in our journey to environmental sustainability. This calls for more communication – to both speak and listen, and actively seek the views of the community at large.

The NEA’s slogan says, “Our Environment – We Care”. Slogans may change. But I hope that the word “we” is always understood to mean not only the NEA, but all of us in Singapore. It is the actions of our people and many private companies, and of other government institutions that can make – or break – Singapore’s best environmental efforts. As NEA people, we will certainly do our part. We hope that you will be encouraged to do yours, and join us on Singapore’s continuing environmental journey.
- Assoc. Prof Simon SC Tay
Ex-Chairman, National Environment Agency

But the biggest challenge NEA faces is to how to reach people – to stir each and every person to embrace our environment and treat it the way it should be treated: as though our lives depended on it. This is not just some airy-fairy, vague concept of saving the earth – it’s about getting people to view things and act in ways that are considerate both to the environment and to society.
- Mr Lee Yuen Hee
Ex-Chief Executive Officer, National Environment Agency

The National Environment Agency
Rahmad SIDEK
Ang Kok Kiat
Jothieswaran P, Chief Engineer, Pollution Control Department

Thank you all so much for being such helpful civil servants.

TPS Construction Pte Ltd

Update :
At 7pm on Monday (16/2/09), Khairul called me. A meeting has been arranged this coming Friday morning between the project manager and affected residents. NEA will send a staff to observe. Finally we are seeing some positive response after 2 years of misery. Unity is strength.


SG Neighbourhood said...


I admire your bravery and selflessness in speaking out for the interests of your neighborhood.

Usually, I knew of a lot of friends and neighbors suffering from noise pollution caused by indifferent contractors as well as neighbors from hell.

Likewise, in Geylang, residents and families have been suffering the noises and security problems with the influx of foreign prostitutes since 2003.

I hope you do not mind me linking your great blog at following :-

We really hope our honourable Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong will realise how much sufferings residents and families have been enduring over the years. Some families have move out as they are concern for the safety of their families.
But we do not know how to put out our messages as clear and powerful as yours in several issues in your blog.

I apologise for my long-winded comment.

Thanks !
Jessy Koh