Air quality masterplan to battle pollution in Abu Dhabi

Experts from the Environment Agency - Abu Dhabi (EAD) are reviewing the current guidelines on ambient air quality, which determines the overall concentration of pollutants in the air.

The Environment Agency Abu Dhabi has announced it is working on a new strategy for air quality, including pollution levels for industry. The agency has also doubled the number of its air-monitoring stations to 20 across the emirate, including this one in Khalifa City. Mona Al Marzooqi / The National
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An air-quality strategy being prepared by the Environment Agency Abu Dhabi could for the first time include pollution limits for industries in the capital.

The move aims to limit pollutants such as ozone and particulates that contribute to a range of health problems.

Experts from the agency, or Ead, are reviewing the current guidelines on ambient air quality, which determines the overall concentration of pollutants in the air.

They are also discussing standards for specific industries, limiting the amount of pollutants they are allowed to discharge.

Darryl Lew, the agency’s executive director of environmental quality, said technical work on the project was expected to finish by the end of the year.

"Ead by December 31 is working out new standards for industry-specific emissions with the view that we will consider imposing these on the permit conditions," said Mr Lew.

After the expert analysis, the agency will advise the Government on suggested changes.

The strategy will need to be reviewed by parties with interests and the Ministry of Environment and Water, before approval by the Abu Dhabi Executive Council.

The process is expected to take at least until the end of next year.

“What we are doing at the moment is going through a screening process because obviously we cannot do every single industry at once,” Mr Lew said.

Ground-level ozone, or smog, is formed when compounds released by machines react with other substances in the atmosphere in the presence of sunlight.

Particulate matter refers to tiny particles of sand, dust or chemicals that are able to penetrate deep into people’s lungs.

Both are public health risks and have been connected to a variety of complaints, including asthma and bronchitis.

For a number of years the agency has been monitoring concentrations of particles no bigger than the thickness of a human hair, at a size of 10 micrometres, known as PM10.

It is also monitoring concentrations of even smaller particles, known as PM2.5, which experts say are especially harmful because of their ability to penetrate the lungs.

“PM10, PM2.5 and ozone are certainly our problematic pollutants,” said Mr Lew.

A significant chunk of particulate pollution in the UAE is down to natural causes, given the desert surrounds.

Any time PM concentrations exceed healthy limits, between 60 and 70 per cent of the PM10 is due to natural phenomena, Mr Lew said.

But between 30 and 40 per cent is caused by “anthropogenic” factors, or human activities such as transport and industry.

“As the emirate develops and goes into its 2030 economic vision, and the industrial sector and the oil and gas sector increase, then the anthropogenic proportion will increase,” said Mr Lew.

“This is where Ead is very focused on making sure that we have the right standards and conditions in place to ensure that the industrial emissions are being controlled as much as possible.”

As part of the new strategy, the agency will also review the ambient air standards, which look at concentrations of pollutants in the ambient air for ozone and PM10.

The two pollutants are among seven types of harmful substances the agency monitors.

For the first time, experts will devise an ambient air quality standard for PM2.5. The review will compare UAE standards with those outlined by other countries and the World Health Organisation.

The announcement was made as the agency doubled the number of monitoring stations across the emirate to 20.

Mr Lew said the network was an important step in evaluating air quality and helping to determine new standards.

“We cannot do any of this work without this data,” he said.

Ead is working with the Health Authority Abu Dhabi to alert pharmacies and people with respiratory disease of high pollution levels from next year.