Cement factories clean up act

New rules include filters and monitoring stations as part of an initiative to improve the poor air quality in Ras al Khaimah and Fujairah.

Ras al Khaimah - July 8, 2010 - One week after washing his car, this owner wipes the dust that has settled on it from the car's rear window in the village of Ghalilah, where he lives, about 25 kilometers north of Ras al Khaimah, July 8, 2010. (Photo by Jeff Topping/The National)

DUBAI // Cement factories will have to install pollution control filters and energy efficiency technologies to comply with new guidelines expected from the Ministry of Environment and Water next month.

The move aims to reduce air pollution in Ras al Khaimah and Fujairah, where most of the country's cement production is located.

The area has long suffered from poor air quality because of the large number of quarry operators. But Dr Ajeeth Cheppudira, a technical adviser at the ministry, said yesterday that in the more than two years since stricter air quality regulations for quarry operators were introduced, the industry had improved its environmental record.

The ministry is now turning its attention to cement plants. In some areas, such as Ras al Khaimah's Khor Khwair, they are the main polluters and the source of residents' complaints.

"Khor Kwair has two quarries and four cement plants, which are a large source of dust pollution," said Dr Cheppudira, who was addressing delegates at Greenomics, an environmental conference in Dubai.

The conference, organised by the Korean manufacturer LG Electronics, was supported by the ministry.

Some of the UAE's 12 major cement producers have invested in newer technologies, however, which ensure fuel is burned more efficiently and reduces harmful emissions.

Once the ministry's regulations come into force, all cement plants will have to act to reduce pollution. Besides investing in more modern, efficient technologies, they will have to deploy filters to trap harmful emissions, said Dr Cheppudira.

The ministry will also be asking plants to install what experts call "ambient air-quality monitoring stations", which measure the air quality in the vicinity of a plant as opposed to only monitoring the pollutants that come out of the plants' stacks.

The new regulations have been reviewed by the cement industry, and "most of them agreed to do what we asked", said Dr Cheppudira.

Enforcing the rules would depend on the will of local authorities in the two emirates, he said. While it will be relatively easy to install filters, energy efficiency could prove harder to implement. "It is a difficult task for them," said Dr Cheppudira. "It will take time."

Maryam al Yamahy, 30, a resident of the Fujairah village of Al Ghub, has experienced first-hand that cement plants can reduce their impact on the environment. She lives with 19 members of her family about three kilometres from a factory that introduced environmental controls three years ago.

The family noticed immediate improvements. "The smell is gone, there's less asthma and now it's OK for our health," she said. "The culture for people is better because we can go outside and have barbecues all the time. We don't have any problems."

Omar al Shehhi, 25, is a former resident of Khor Khwair, where he lived a few hundred metres from several of the cement factories. His in-laws, who remain in the area, have yet to see an improvement.

"There are many trucks there, it's very dangerous, many accidents happen and we suffer from the smoke and the gas," he said. "But 95 per cent of the problem is with the air. I cannot breathe there, children cannot breathe there. So many children have difficulties."

The ministry's guidelines for quarry operators required an investment in dust suppression and collection units. Before implementing them, the ministry divided quarry operators into three, colour-coded groups. Operators in the green category were those employing modern and efficient pollution controls. Amber operators had the necessary systems but did not operate them properly, causing unacceptable pollution, while those labelled "red" lacked any environmental controls, said Dr Cheppudira.

When monitoring started in August 2008, only 35 per cent of all 105 quarries in the country were considered green. The majority, or 40 per cent, were classed amber with the remainder in the red category. However, by December of last year, after more than a year of regular inspections and closures, 95 per cent were classed green and five per cent were amber.

"As of today, we are at 97 per cent compliance," said Mr Cheppudira.

"Next in line are the mineral water companies, to make sure they produce good-quality water," he said.

* With additional reporting from Anna Zacharias