ABU DHABI // Air quality in the UAE is generally good – but the issue will probably need more attention as the country grows, a prominent researcher has said.
“There are national guidelines and most pollutants are within these standards but some pollutants are above the standards,” said Dr Alena Bartonova, research director of the Abu Dhabi branch of the Norwegian Institute for Air Research.
“I definitely think we should pay attention. We have great cities here, which are growing and every time there is growth in human activity, there is an increase in pollution,” she said.
“In general, I do not think people should be scared, but they should be aware that some of their activities – like driving a car or building a new house – contribute to air pollution,” she said, adding that some industrial activities were also significant sources of pollution.
Particulate matter (PM) – tiny particles of sand, dust or chemicals – is one pollutant that registers elevated levels.
Nitrogen oxide, usually released in the combustion of fossil fuels, and ground-level ozone, or smog, which is formed when some chemicals released from human activities react with substances already in the atmosphere in the presence of sunlight, are two other substances that show elevated concentrations, Dr Bartonova said.
Reem Deed, a project manager for a Dubai-based supplier of air-quality monitoring equipment and services, Enviro & Industrial Solutions, also said that PM and ground-level ozone, especially in the summer, were the two pollutants most commonly registering high concentrations in Dubai.
Local authorities have taken steps to measure pollution levels with Abu Dhabi and Dubai providing real-time information, publicly available online, on the concentration of common pollutants, with measurements taken regularly at stations throughout the two cities.
In the capital, the Environment Agency – Abu Dhabi (Ead) has also started detailed monitoring of particulate matter pollution, looking at levels of particles, known as PM10, which are only 10 micrometres in size, with a micrometre being a millionth of a metre.
There are also monitoring levels of the even smaller PM2.5 particles, which experts believe are especially harmful as they are able to penetrate in the lungs when inhaled.
“PM is a difficult pollutant because it is directly emitted by natural sources and man-made sources but it is also formed in the atmosphere,” said Dr Bartonova, explaining that more studies are necessary into the subject as well as into the formation and transport of other pollutants.
“A lot has been done, there is a number of things we do know, a number of entities working, but things take time and we need to build up,” she said.
Overall, there is a need to know more about how air pollution is tied to human activities, what are the processes that contribute to forming it in the atmosphere and how much of it is generated locally and how much from abroad, she said.
Both ozone and particulate matter are what scientists call secondary pollutants – substances that form in the atmosphere through reactions with primary pollutants. This is why the issue needs to be looked at in the context of the whole region, not just the UAE. But, at the same time, “ozone-forming or particle-forming substances” are emitted locally by the transport, mineral excavation and hydrocarbon industries, she said.
Dr Bartonova recommended setting up a framework within which local governments, research bodies and industries that contribute to pollution coordinate their efforts to share data.
A similar approach was adopted when Ead drafted Abu Dhabi’s first inventory of greenhouse gases. Achieving cleaner air for the UAE would also require regional cooperation to make sure other countries also better understand their responsibilities and contributions, she said.