By Lizzy Ioannidou
AN AVERAGE of one year is cut from the lives of every Nicosia resident due to high levels of air pollution, which is linked with 400 premature deaths a year islandwide, an environmental expert said on Thursday.
It was found that the levels of particulate matter recorded in Nicosia, a city of some 200,000 people were higher than Paris, whose population is 2.2 million, and that was all year round.
But it’s not all home-grown. Cyprus is also significantly affected by energy-related activities in the Middle East, and dust from Africa, and it’s predicted to only get worse.
According to Jean Sciare, Professor and Director of the Energy, Environment, Water Research Centre (EEWRC) at the Cyprus Institute, the Eastern-Mediterranean and Middle East (EMME) region, in which Cyprus holds a central position, is currently a major air-pollution hotspot.
With a total population of around 400 million people regularly affected by dust storms, dryness, and heat extremes, the exceptionally high levels of air pollution, and especially particulate matter (PM), that plague the region, are increasingly affecting the regional climate, including temperatures and precipitation, and is a major cause of adverse health effects.
Approximately 400 premature deaths and 8,000 years of life are lost per year in Cyprus all attributable to PM, Sciare said.
The levels of air pollution in Nicosia are so high compared with higher mountainous areas in Cyprus that the year of life everyone will likely lose due to exposure to the air in the capital, that they could regain six months of that if they moved to an area such as Ayia Marina Xyliatou. This is where local air pollution levels are recorded by the Institute’s Cyprus Atmospheric Observatory and found to be at much lower levels.
Levels of PM1, particulate matter measuring less than one micrometre, that were recorded in Nicosia by the Cyprus Institute’s air quality monitoring facilities showed significantly higher figures compared to other European capitals such as Paris at all times of the year.
The yearly average of PM1 levels in Nicosia were calculated at 22μg per cubic metre, with lowest levels recorded in the month of April at 16μg per cubic metre and the highest in the month of December at a whopping 30.5μg per cubic metre, while levels during winter in Paris go to 20μg per cubic metre, and falling as low as 7.5μg per cubic metre during the summer.
“The high levels of air pollution in December are attributed to woodburning fragments, from burning wood in fireplaces,” Sciare said, noting that air pollution measurements during last weekend found that two thirds of Nicosia’s pollution came from woodburning fragments.
Fireplaces contribute significantly to air pollution, Sciare said, “since they do not use any technology; when we light fireplaces we are burning wood in the same way we did thousands of years ago.”
Air pollution in Cyprus, and particularly PM, Sciare said, has natural as well as anthropogenic sources, and accumulates through local pollutants, but is also transferred from the surrounding region.
In December 2014 in Nicosia, Sciare showed, the main identified sources of organic aerosols in PM were traffic (17 per cent), cooking (15 per cent), primary biomass burning (16 per cent), secondary biomass burning (16 per cent), while 35 per cent was transferred from other parts of the EMME region.
“Local emissions are two thirds of total concentrations and therefore steps can be taken for their mitigation,” Sciare said, but not so much can be done to mitigate the transference of pollution from other areas, especially energy-related pollution from the Middle East.
Extremely high levels of nitrogen dioxide (180 parts per billion) and sulphur dioxide (340ppb) are transferred to Cyprus from the Middle East, while levels are also high for carbon dioxide, PM2.5 and PM2.5-10.
Other notable contributors to Cyprus’ air pollution are Africa, from which the highest levels of PM2.5-10 originate mostly in the form of dust particles from deserts; other countries of the Mediterranean; east Europe and Turkey; and western and central Europe.
“The difference,” Sciare said, “is that while the situation in Europe is expected to improve, regional air pollution is expected to get worse in the future.”