BEIRUT: Almost all Beirut residents are exposed to high and dangerous levels of air pollution, according to a study released by American University Beirut.

The two-year study, released last week, found that 93 percent of Beirut’s population inhaled air pollutants well in excess of World Health Organization standards.
It alarmingly concluded that pollution was rising year-on-year, reaching 58 micrograms of nitrogen dioxide per cubic meter in 2010 compared to the WHO maximum allowance of 40.

Road vehicles were identified as the biggest cause of pollution, which is exasperated by constant traffic jams, the ageing nature of the car fleet and the addition of 100,000 extra vehicles on Lebanon’s roads each year.

The discharge from a single vehicle can only be offset by the planting of 160 two-year old trees, the report said.

Pollution has contributed to the “significant” instance of associated lung diseases, such as pulmonary cancers, over the last decade, said Rizk Hospital pulmonologist, Dr Marie-Louise Coussa-Koniski.

Asthma levels are now thought to be at least 50 percent higher in Lebanon than in Europe or the U.S., Coussa-Koniski added.

Deteriorating human health is also costing the health services at least $10 million each year, said AUB economist Jad Chaaba, who participated in the report launch.

Reducing air pollution to just slightly above recommended levels could save some $16 million on lost work days, and $3.2 million in hospital visits, annually, he added.

A similar reduction would also lead to a 70 percent fall in asthma cases and a 50 percent reduction in instances of bronchitis, Coussa-Koniski said.

A string of short- and long-term reforms have been proposed to alleviate the problem, with report authors advancing the introduction of staggered working hours, the organization and expansion of public transport, and the encouragement car pooling or cycling.

Additionally enacting smoking bans in public places, where air pollution levels can exceed WHO standards by 200 times, could also have an immediate impact on public health, according to Coussa-Koniski.

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(The Daily Star :: Lebanon News ::