Dubai: Air quality in Dubai is far from ranking the city among the most polluted. However, some areas have high levels of benzene and volatile organic compounds, as well as particulate matter, also known as PM 10.

A small-scale self-financed study on air pollution carried out by Gulf News revealed that Deira, Garhoud and International City have the highest levels of sulphur dioxide (SO2) and nitrogen dioxide (NO2). Karama, Media City and The Marina also ranked highly with some results higher than international standards' annual averages.

However, according to experts, the situation is no worse than some European urban areas.

Rashid Karkain, head of environment planning in the environment department at Dubai Municipality, believes Dubai suffers the most from PM10 due to its geographic location and high level of dust in the air from the surrounding desert landscape.

The US Environment Protection Agency states that PM10 can be directly emitted or can be formed in the atmosphere when gaseous pollutants such as sulphur dioxide and Nitrogen Dioxide react to form fine particles.

The World Health Organisation considers PM10 to be a "measure of the complex mix of particles, dust and gases that result from fuel combustion in vehicles and power generators".

"When the readings are below standards then we have clean air," said Karkain. "PM10 is not a man-made related activity here. We suffer from sandstorms, but monitored history can show there is natural dust in the area," he said.

Dubai Municipality has been monitoring the air in Dubai since the 1990s with six monitoring stations around the city. The data of these results were unable to be garnered by Gulf News as the results are "already reported" on a Dubai Municipality web portal, said Karkain.

Karkain said nitrogen oxide [traditionally emitted by car exhausts, electricity generation or fossil fuel combustion] are a concern in certain areas of Dubai at certain times of the year.

"We have some projects under way to find the sources of pollutants, but they are not concluded yet," he said. "No part of Dubai will be good in hot, dusty weather. nitrogen oxide is an issue on highways. We are carrying out another study on heat island effect."

Among all the studies being conducted is another project to expand the monitoring network in Dubai in order to compare population growth and air quality, said Karkain. The frequent smog visible over the city is not an indication of air pollution, he said. "The air could be polluted but there will be no smog to show for it either."

When disclosure of annual air quality reports from Dubai Municipality were refused, Gulf News opted to carry out a self-funded independent air quality study by positioning passive diffusion tubes in 11 residential areas of Dubai, including Hatta, in September 2008.

Each location had three tubes — one for nitrogen dioxide, another for sulphur dioxide and a third for ambient air volatile organic compounds (VOCs).

Passive diffusion tubes are not as accurate as real time monitoring. However, they do give a good indication of what is happening with air quality and are ISO certified.

Three laboratories in Dubai refused to carry out the tests for Gulf News so Gradko Environmental in the UK was commissioned instead.

The sulphur dioxide and nitrogen dioxide tests are clear plastic tubes measuring around 7cm in length and 1cm in diameter. They are open at one end and covered with mesh impregnated with a pollutant absorbing chemical.

The diffusion tubes collect the pollutant during the exposure period and are then resealed and returned to the laboratory for analysis. Each tube was exposed for between eight to twelve days. The laboratory then assesses the quantity of the pollutant absorbed by calculating the average ambient NO2 or SO2 concentration over the exposure period.

The VOC passive tube measures about 12 cm in length
and is made of stainless steel with a solid polymer
absorbent, two brass swagelock caps and an aluminium
air diffuser - a small mesh cap - fitted to one end.

Gulf News staff took one of each tube home and hung them upright with wire on 1st floor balconies or ground-floor gardens for an average of 10 days, or 246 hours, in open but not overly windy locations

Dubai Municipality air quality monitoring can be viewed online at

Despite the site stating that the computer system can interrogate each test site hourly, daily, monthly and annually, Gulf News was unable to acquire any such reports.