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Agency blames two sectors for majority of air pollution

The oil and gas industry is the main source of air pollution in Abu Dhabi, followed by the power and transportation sectors, environmental experts say.

The oil and gas industry is the main source of air pollution in the capital, followed by the power and transportation sectors, environmental experts said yesterday. Pollution by two gases - sulphur dioxide and nitrogen oxide - and small suspended dust particles are of the greatest concerns, said Dr Jaber al Jaberi, director of the policy sector at the Environment Agency-Abu Dhabi (EAD) at a workshop to present the agency's air quality strategy.

The agency has set out a number of goals to be achieved by 2013, one of which is to achieve a 70 per cent compliance rate with Abu Dhabi's standards for outdoor air quality. At the moment, compliance levels are at 64 per cent, said Trond Bohler, branch manager at the Norwegian Institute for Air Research. The institute was last year commissioned to monitor air quality in the emirate and is helping EAD develop policies to rectify the situation.

Nitrogen oxide and sulphur dioxide are released into the air as fossil fuels are burned in industrial generators and power plants as well as petrol engines. The process is also responsible for particle emissions, although the latter is also caused by sandstorms. These tiny particles are a major cause of respiratory disease. Until recently, the agency only had the equipment to detect the presence of particles no smaller than 10 micrometres. But it is even tinier particles, not larger than 2.5 micrometres, that have the most adverse health impact as they are able to penetrate critical parts of the lungs.

Last month, the agency installed new equipment to help scientists detect the presence of these particles. In addition, machines known as carbon analysers have been purchased that will help scientists understand how much of the problem is attributable to natural causes and how much to industrial activities and traffic. Although natural causes are responsible for much of the problem, it can be managed, said Mr Bohler. Trees can be used to provide a dust barrier, while new settlements can be planned considering the wind direction, he said.

The EAD also aims to increase the number of cars in the capital running on compressed natural gas to 20 per cent by 2013 and introduce diesel fuel with lower sulphur content. Another way to improve air quality would be stricter industrial controls. The current industrial pollution limits do not encourage the companies to make improvements, said Zahinuddin Kidwai, chemical and environment manager at a subsidiary of the Abu Dhabi Water and Electricity Company.

Mr Bohler expressed a similar opinion. "The law should be updated," he said. The EAD will be measuring the emissions of different industries and comparing these to global best practices with a view to updating the regulations, he said. The emissions of power and desalination plants will be tackled first. The EAD's air quality strategy aims to decrease Abu Dhabi's contribution to climate change. @Email:vtodorova@thenational.ae

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