BEIRUT: Traffic and urbanization have led to Beirut exceeding global air pollution safety levels, but warm weather and weak winds also contribute to alarmingly poor air quality in the capital, new research has shown.

The National Council for Scientific Research revealed this week its findings of a recent air quality study, emphasizing the high level of Nitrous Oxide in Beirut, which exceeds international thresholds.

The research, in collaboration with two Beirut universities, carried out a series of tests to measure ambient air pollution levels around the capital.

“NO2 estimated values varied between 35 and 68 µg/m3 (micrograms per cubic meters of air) with an average of 53 µg/m3,” said American University of Beirut professor Najat Saliba.” The World Health Organization standards and norms are placed at 40µg/m3.”

The research team divided the city into three main areas: eastern, western and central Beirut. Western Beirut showed the lowest air pollution levels while the central “hot spot” area reached maximum and potentially damaging levels.

“We have a chronic pollution between 8 a.m. and 8 p.m., do not experience peak levels like EU cities, and chronic pollution is worse,” said Saint Joseph University professor Jocelyne Gerard. She added that Beirut’s “fine weather and weak winds contribute to the accumulation of the pollutants.”

The study showed the overall NO2 average in the summer was markedly lower than in fall, which was named as the worst season for air quality.

According to the metrological department at Rafik Hariri International Airport, this season’s rainfall reached 379mm compared with 638mm for the same period last year. Lebanon’s annual average rainfall is 541mm; this marks a 30 percent decrease in overall rainfall average and 40 percent less than last year.

“Results disseminated in this progress report constitute the first comprehensive database related to air pollution in Beirut,” said Saliba, who noted that the research served as the basis for policy initiatives and public awareness campaigns.

The study supports results from last year’s AUB research, which found that air pollutant particle levels exceeded guidelines set by the WHO. These particles adversely affect human health, according to the study.

“Air pollution is a priority for Lebanon and its citizens as it directly concerns their health and well-being,” said Georges Aoun, USJ vice president for research. “About 14 percent of Lebanon’s budget is allocated to health, and today’s research will lead to the betterment of the public’s well-being by engaging the decision-makers to take the necessary steps.”

General Directorate of the Internal Security Forces and Transport Ministry representatives attended the summit, but neither the Environment nor Health ministries sent delegates.

USJ professor Maher Abboud said that while some measures to combat air pollution were free, there were “others for a certain cost and yet others more at much higher costs.”