Saharan dust to engulf capital

Dust from the Sahara Desert is expected to descend on Athens today, exacerbating the already high temperatures but also increasing the density of particles in the air to dangerous levels, scientists warned yesterday. Dust from the Sahara is often blown over Greece between March and May but the fact that the weather is already hot and ground-level ozone is at high levels could cause citizens greater discomfort. Experts believe that, as a result, pollution levels could exceed 185 micrograms per cubic meter (mg/m3). The concentration levels in Athens over the last few days have been between 30 and 60 mg/m3, whereas the warning limit set by the European Union is 50 mg/m3 – a ceiling the EU says must not be exceeded for more than 35 days a year. Scientists warned that the mixture of dust particles and air pollution could cause health problems. «The worst thing is that the dust gets mixed up with the smog. In other words, the dust particles become covered by emissions and create new airborne particles,» said Haris Kambezidis, director of research at the National Observatory of Athens. Doctors recommend that people avoid sports activity or moving about the city unnecessarily until Saturday to avoid the dangerous combination of heat, humidity, dust and pollution. As of Saturday, the wind will pick up and temperatures will drop. The warning about the Saharan dust came as scientists yesterday briefed a parliamentary committee about the dangers that air pollution pose to people’s health. Professors Klea Katsouyanni and Matthaios Santamouris informed the panel of MPs that there was a direct correlation between small changes in the quality of the air people breathe and serious illnesses. They said that their research indicated that a rise in the number of suspended particles by 10 mg/m3 prompts a 1.6 percent increase in the number of deaths, a 1.7 percent rise in heart disease and an increase of 1 percent in asthma attacks among children.

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