By Andria Kades
Dozens of people were treated at hospitals islandwide on Tuesday, and flights to Larnaca had to be diverted to Paphos as the dust cloud covering the island entered its second day with pollution reaching record levels, authorities said.
“Until 2pm there was a total of 24 affected flights, 12 arrivals and 12 departures. The emergency situation had a knock on effect on the airports’ operations,” Hermes Airport spokesman Adamos Aspris said. “Passengers whose destination was Larnaca inevitably had to land in Paphos and taken to Larnaca by bus. By 2pm, 10 flights that were meant to depart from Larnaca airport eventually took off from Paphos Airport and passengers were taken with buses to Paphos.”
Aspris said the visibility at Larnaca airport went from 500 metres in the morning – creating huge difficulties in executing the flight schedule – to about 1,300 metres by midday, a major improvement that allowed the airport to start receiving flights again. But the situation was still difficult, he added. Passengers are advised to contact the airport to see if there are any changes to their flights given that the dust could is not expected to abate until Wednesday afternoon.
Education Minister Costas Kadis said if the dust continued he did not rule out closing schools.
The thick dust was visible all over Cyprus on Tuesday, and most of the Middle East including Jordan, Israel, Lebanon and a part of Egypt. The dust cloud is coming from Syria, Jordan and Iraq.
Coupled with unseasonally stifling temperatures, Cypriot authorities said dozens of people needed medical treatment for respiratory problems.
Met official Panayiotis Michail said the dust cloud was expected to start to subside slightly on Wednesday. It was expected to be less of a problem on Thursday but it would still be around. By afternoon on Tuesday, dust particle concentration readings increased in Limassol, Larnaca, Paphos, Zygi and Ayia Marina whilst they had subsided a bit in Nicosia compared to morning figures.
Temperatures are expected to drop to around 38 degrees Celsius over the next two days but will rise again by the weekend, hitting 40C. The met office expected a maximum temperature of 41C for Tuesday while humidity would remain at normal levels except on the east coast. Normal temperatures at this time of the year are 34C.
Michail said the dust cloud was rare for this time of year. Such phenomena are mostly seen in the Spring. “From that respect, it is a phenomenon that you cannot easily expect and not even dust forecast models had predicted it,” he said.
Winds at this time were usually from the northwest, he added, whereas the ones that carried the dust, from the northeast, were quite rare.
The health ministry warned people to avoid any physical exercise and limit the time they spend outside.
This applied especially for people with breathing, heart, and kidney problems, children and the elderly, the ministry said. People with bronchitis or asthma may need an increased dosage of their medicine and were advised to consult with their doctor.
One Limassol resident Marina Nicolaou said she was grateful she was working at her office so she didn’t need to be outside. “It’s terrible…there’s no sun just dust. Thank goodness I’m indoors otherwise I would’ve been a mess.”
Eleni Stavrou, living in Nicosia was suffering from a terrible headache since Monday. “I felt that there was a big weight on my head and on my chest as well. We decided to close the windows and we didn’t know whether that was better or worse because either way the room was stuffy,” she told the Cyprus Mail.
The Pancyprian Veterinary Association advised that people should keep their pets away from the dust and make sure their outdoor walks were kept to a bare minimum. Dogs with short heads such as bulldogs and pugs are high risk. Animals that are coughing, have difficulty breathing, or tearing up due to eye sensitivity should see a vet, the association added.
Ruling DISY party said it would keep a conference room at its Nicosia HQ on Pindarou Street open for the public between 9am to 6pm throughout this week.
By 5pm on Tuesday, dust particle concentration readings – measured in PM10 (particulate matter) were subsiding in Limassol, Larnaca, Paphos, Nicosia and Ayia Marina while showing a slight increase in Zygi.
The maximum accepted minimum of PM10 is 50μg/m3. Readings at 5pm showed Nicosia was at 767 μg/m3, 1215 μg/m3 in Paphos, 4601 μg/m3 in Limassol, 3422 μg/m3 in Zygi, 2955 μg/m3 in Larnaca and 553 μg/m3 in Ayia Marina.
Health effects of particulate matter include decreased lung function, lifelong respiratory disease, coughing, wheezing, shortness of breath, aggravated asthma and increase the risk of cardiac arrest and premature death.
Natural sources of PM include sea salt, naturally suspended dust like in the case of Sahara dust storms, pollen, and volcanic ash. Anthropogenic sources include fuel combustion in thermal power generation, incineration, domestic heating for households, and fuel combustion for vehicles. In cities, important local sources include vehicle exhausts, road dust re‑suspension, and the burning of wood, fuel or coal for domestic heating.
Answering questions as to whether the dust cloud could contain chemicals from air strikes in Syria, environmental scientist Charalambos Panayiotou told the Cyprus Mail that although he had no hard evidence, the war zone regions were on a smaller scale compared to the whole country where the dust may have come from. This would make the risk of people breathing in dangerous chemicals very small, he said
For updated information on air pollution levels please visit AirQualityCyprus