DM using outdated air testing standard

Dubai Municipality (DM) is using an outdated version of a World Health Organisation standard to gauge air quality in Dubai, which includes testing the level of a harmful pollutant originating from construction sites, Construction Week has learned.

The city's skyline can barely been seen due to the levels of pollution in the air.
The city's skyline can barely been seen due to the levels of pollution in the air.

Dubai Municipality (DM) is using an outdated version of a World Health Organisation standard to gauge air quality in Dubai, which includes testing the level of a harmful pollutant originating from construction sites, Construction Week has learned.

The pollutant - particulate matter 10 (PM10) - is measured in the Deira and Safa Park areas.

The dust from these sites could be having an adverse effect on people's long-term health, according to the World Health Organisation (WHO).

DM claims that the WHO recommended level of exposure is 100 micrograms per m3 (µg/m

3

) to 1to 150µg/m

3

in 24 hours.

But a global update published by the WHO in an October 2005 report reset the guideline over a 24 hour period to 550µg/m

3

.

According to DM claims, air quality is "clean" if it contains less than 300µg/m

3

at any given time - six times the WHO recommended global standard.

CW accessed live data from DM's air quality monitoring system on a regular basis and found that during a five-day period at the start of August the amount of PM10 in the air ranged from 205µg/m

3

to 1845µg/m

3

- or 37 times the WHO recommended mean guideline.

There is evidence that construction sites have a marked contribution to PM10 levels.

Professor Roy Harrison OBE, chair of environmental health at the UK's Birmingham University since 1991 and UK government advisor on air quality standards, said: "We have circumstantial evidence that construction and demolition activities can significantly and substantially affect airborne particulate matter concentrations for appreciable periods of time.

"This stems from analysis of records showing unexpected periods of increased particle concentrations, correlated with records of local activity by the building industry."

According to the WHO, air pollution is estimated to cause 2 million premature deaths per year.

DM said that the conditions were partly down to a meteorological condition known as the 40-day Shamal, which occurs when the winds from the Northwest bring hot and sometimes dusty conditions from the deserts of Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and Iraq.

DM Environmental Planning Unit head Rashid Karkin said, "Each country may have its own standards. Pollution doesn't necessarily have to be from any human activities. That's what makes our conditions here different from everywhere else."

The DM also said that the increase in dusty conditions could be due to frequent sand storms in the area. But Habiba Al Marashi of the Emirates Environmental Group said that "there are no recent reports suggesting a dramatic increase in the frequency of these storms."

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