Dust nuisance
NEPA reveals air quality 3-4 times more polluted than normal
A visual representation of the Sahara dust moving across the Atlantic Ocean.

As the Saharan dust passes over the island, Jamaicans are starting to feel the health and economic effects resulting from the deteriorating air quality.

Saharan dust is an aeolian mineral dust from the Sahara Desert in Africa which is carried by wind across the Atlantic Ocean to the Caribbean region.

The phenomena is common during the period May to August annually.

Since the start of May, Jamaicans have taken to social media exclaiming that the cloud of dust is the worse they have ever seen but it’s the invisible effects which has many physicians worried.

As is customary during the Sahara dust period, clinics have already started to report an uptick in patients turning up with respiratory challenges. One physician admitted to the Jamaica Observer that while there is no clear indication that the Sahara dust is to be blamed, the trend during this period is undeniable.

But it’s not only costing medical bills to pile up, employers are also feeling the economic burden of the poor air quality.

One businessman who already had air-conditioning units installed in his building explained that he has upgraded to air-conditioning units which purifies the air better.

He said the upgrade was not cheap but noted it is necessary to keep his staff healthy and working, given the poor air quality in the environment.

He said, “at a time when electricity, gas and inflation is on our backs, the Sahara dust has forced us to accept another expenditure which will impact our profit.”

Aside from that, the business community has had to deal with productivity loss due to more workers calling in sick or being placed on sick leave by physicians during this period.

Globally, air pollution cost US$8 billion per day. That’s according to a report published by Greenpeace Southeast Asia and the Centre for Research on Energy and Clean Air.

In 2018 the total cost of air pollution was US$2.9 trillion, which accounted for 3.3 per cent of global gross domestic product (GDP).

According to data released by the Air Quality Management Branch at the National Environment and Planning Agency (NEPA), normal levels of tiny particles or droplets in the air that are two and one half microns or less in width (PM2.5) doubled on May 19 when Jamaica began to experience impact from the first wave of Sahara Dust.

Notably, PM2.5 degrades air quality and human health as it is able to enter the blood stream.

The data revealed that this was the case in both Kingston and Montego Bay.

Levels, during the first wave, peaked on May 21. But declines in concentrations were observed between May 22-28, and levels returned to normal between May 29 and June 4.

The Air Quality Management Branch further noted that another wave of Sahara Dust began to be experienced on June 5 and PM2.5 levels continued to increase to almost three-four times the normal levels on June 13 and 14.

Aside from the Sahara dust phenomena, the Government has been exploring initiatives to reduce air pollution on a larger scale in Jamaica.

Earlier this year, acting chief technical director of the Policy, Planning and Evaluation Division in the Ministry of Economic Growth and Job Creation, Gillian Guthrie, announced that Jamaicans will soon be held financially responsible for correcting activities that pollute the environment under the ‘Polluter Pays’ principle.

The principle is to be incorporated in all environmental policies and legislation.

In the meantime, cheif technical officer at CAC 2000, Colin Roberts, told the Observer that there are new technologies which can be used to purify indoor air and protect against significant health implications.

He said, “Indoor air quality (IAQ) is becoming a more and more important consideration in our lives. It determines where we work, our well-being at work and even where we live. Businesses are now evaluating the time lost in absenteeism due to allergies and other respiratory ailments.”

But he stressed that indoor air quality isn’t just about air borne particles. “It’s about humidity, temperature, oxygen, VOC’s and carbon dioxide levels as well. There are many processes that require the critical control of all of these variables. Not only does indoor air quality also involve the consideration of the technologies used to control these variables but also the materials used in the construction of new buildings and the materials used in the cleaning of these structures,” Roberts added.

The CAC 2000 technical officer further explained, “IAQ is an important consideration even when considering the chemicals used in the ink to print this newspaper as well as the control of the paper fragments emanating from the paper as it rolls through the printing press!”

With that said, he highlighted a few of the products which will help to keep the air clean at home and at work.

The Germ Guardian Pluggable Air Sanitizer is a compact air sanitiser that reduces airborne germs and household odours caused by bacteria, pets and cooking fumes. It also kills bacteria, mould and viruses and is recommended for kitchenettes, bathrooms and small offices. There’s also the Germ Guardian Air Purifier which incorporates a HEPA filter and UV light, cleans rooms of up to 167 square feet and is recommended for bedrooms and typical offices. Roberts also listed energy recovery ventilators (EVRs) which is mostly used commercial entities, particularly in business process outsourcing’s (BPO’s) centres where there is a high population density.

A picture of a segtion of Kingston Jamaica covered by the Sahara dust.
BY ANDREW LAIDLEY Senior business reporter laidleya@jamaicaobserver.com

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