Have you noticed a burning smell on your daily commute on the MRT?
Several netizens have reported a disgusting, disturbing, and worrisome smell on their commutes whenever they use the MRT. Online forums have been rife with discussion, and the Straits Times had asked SMRT officials what the smell was about.
According to The Straits Times, the initial statement released by SMRT authorities on July 12 stated that the smell came from, “composite brake blocks made of fibre asbestos with metallic grains.”
Wait a minute, isn’t asbestos dangerous?
According to reports on The Straits Times, a commuter named Alvin Lee offered an explanation regarding brakes and the strong smell, saying that when heated, the materials used in the brakes would produce the smell.
SMRT then added, “This will gradually reduce as the brakes become seasoned over time,” and continued to say that there were no health risks involved.
The National Environment Agency said, however, that Singapore had stopped the importation and use of asbestos way back in the 1980s.
Chinese trains, though, have been known to contain the dangerous substance as late as 2014, and some countries are still in the process of removing the asbestos from their train systems today.
Why is inhaling or ingesting asbestos so bad, anyway?
According to The National Cancer Institute in the United States, inhaling asbestos dust or being exposed to the substance can lead to severe respiratory illnesses and certain cancers.
While undisturbed, untouched, intact asbestos used in construction and industrial materials do not pose risks, asbestos dust that billow from these materials and inhaled particles (which could include heated brakes containing asbestos) qualifies as exposure and presents a lot of risk including mesothelioma.
According to the NCH, “When asbestos fibers are breathed in, they may get trapped in the lungs and remain there for a long time. Over time, these fibers can accumulate and cause scarring and inflammation, which can affect breathing and lead to serious health problems.”
Asbestos is also a known carcinogen, and, according to the same institute, “Has been linked to mesothelioma (a relatively rare cancer of the thin membranes that line the chest and abdomen), and cancers of the lung, larynx, and ovary.”
Asbestos exposure is also associated with cancers of the stomach, pharynx, and colorectum.
But SMRT said they made a mistake
A few hours after they had issued the Thursday statement to the Straits Times, SMRT admitted that a human error had occurred with answering the queries, and that their trains did not contain any asbestos.
According to their new statement, “We assure commuters that asbestos is not used in any part of our MRT network. It was a human error caused by one of our customer relations staff putting his own words and sending the e-mail reply to a commuter too quickly. We are tightening the clearance process for all reply letters. We are sorry for the unnecessary alarm caused.”
Their new statement, which was issued by their Chief Commuter Engagement Officer Elaine Koh, also said that the smell comes from the heat generated when the train’s wheels and the rails are generating a lot of friction when the former brakes, and the smell comes from the heat.
They said that they are working to reduce the incidences of this happening.
The Straits Times also asked SBS, which is another company that operates the trains in Singapore, but they said that their trains do not contain asbestos.
What do you think of SMRT’s statements? Let us know in the comments!