Pablo Picasso once said, “The purpose of art is washing the dust of daily life off our souls.” So, it’s off to the art galleries all you in Abu Dhabi: your meteorological agencies are warning of epic dust storms ahead.
The Health Authority (HAAD) and Environment Agency (EAD) are urging people to check in to their respective websites for tips to avoid the health hazards of these sandy storms. Dust can trigger headaches, nasal congestion, wheezing, breathlessness, chest tightness and coughing. Dust storms can also bring on full-blown asthma attacks.
Respiratory infections are the second most common non-life threatening medical condition in Abu Dhabi, according to HAAD. Asthma ranks fourth in killer diseases.
What’s kicking up the dirty atmosphere?
Natural dust has been a fact of life here for centuries. Spring is especially dusty across the Middle East, consider the annual khamsin season in Egypt and Jordan. But scientists have recorded an increased level of particulate matter in recent years, especially in rural areas.
This increase isn’t necessarily linked to urbanization, but instead seems the result of natural changes in regional weather patterns. There’s evidence to suggest that the drying of marshes in southern Iraq has provided a significant new source for dust, which can be entrained in strong winds and blown into Abu Dhabi.
The EAD has 20 air-monitoring stations placed across the emirate in both urban and rural settings, which monitor for five major air pollutants — particulate matter (PM), nitrogen dioxide, carbon monoxide, sulphur dioxide and ground-level ozone.
PM is made up of nitrates and sulphates, organic chemicals, soil and dust particles and metals. The smaller the particle, the easier it travels into lungs and other organs. About 60% of small airborne particulate matter is created by the natural desert environment, and the remaining 40% is the byproduct of industrial emissions, including vehicle exhaust.
Abu Dhabi’s air quality limits were set in 1999 by Federal Law number 24.
The EAD website offers live data, describing air quality by six levels of health concern – good, moderate, unhealthy for sensitive groups, unhealthy, very unhealthy and hazardous.
In an effort to enhance public health, the agency is developing an air quality forecasting system, similar to ozone level and pollen count forecasts delivered in other countries.
Image of a camel in a sandstorm from Shutterstock