x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 17 January 2018

Environment agency to widen air quality monitoring to include tiny sand particles

Abu Dhabi will now be looking at the prevalence of minute pollution grains and plans to share information with other bodies.

Air monitoring devices such as this one at the junction of Hamdan Street and Muroor Road can be seen across Abu Dhabi.
Air monitoring devices such as this one at the junction of Hamdan Street and Muroor Road can be seen across Abu Dhabi.

ABU DHABI // The emirate's environmental agency is taking a closer look at air quality, widening the scope of its monitoring stations to check for minute particles of sand, dust and chemicals that are capable of penetrating deep within the lungs.

The Environment Agency-Abu Dhabi is taking the lead from authorities in Europe and North America that already test for the particles, known as PM2.5. The particles, invisible to the human eye, are believed to have the potential to cause lung disease. Each one is no bigger than 2.5 micrometers (one micrometre measures one thousandth of a millimetre). "We already started monitoring at two of our stations," Dr David Blackmore, the agency's director of the environmental management sector, said yesterday.

Scientists are still debating the health risks that 10-micrometre particles, which the agency is already measuring, can cause. The monitoring of PM2.5, which started in November, will be carried out at 10 stations and by two mobile units. The agency would also try to determine how many of the particles occurred naturally and how many were man-made, Dr Blackmore said. While sand and dust are a natural part of the desert environment, fossil fuel combustion, such as emissions from cars, power plant and oil refineries, can contribute.

Although the first results were being analysed, researchers had not collected enough samples to conclude whether there was a high amount of PM2.5 in the air and whether or not it was man-made, Dr Blackmore said. Besides particulate matter, the agency's air quality monitoring programme focuses on other common pollutants such as nitrogen dioxide, carbon monoxide, sulphur dioxide and ground-level ozone.

Dr Blackmore said that besides expanding the scope of its monitoring, the agency was also looking to increase the number of its air quality stations as early as next year. The agency wants to link up with other bodies to share information. Last month, it signed an agreement with the Higher Corporation for Specialized Economic Zones, or ZonesCorp, which has five stations. Talks are taking place with the Abu Dhabi Electricity and Water Authority, the Department of Transport and the Khalifa Port and Industrial Zone.

The Abu Dhabi National Oil Company (Adnoc) has the largest number of monitoring stations. Dialogue had opened between the agency and Adnoc, but the sides had yet to reach a formal agreement, Dr Blackmore said. @Email:vtodorova@thenational.ae