Published: 18 November 2014

First research study on airborne nanoparticles in Middle East

New research published in a top-ranking journal investigates the effect of hot climatic conditions on airborne nanoparticles known to be harmful to human health.

Dr Prashant Kumar, Senior Lecturer in the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering, has led a research team that has broken new ground by focusing on the dispersion of nanoparticles in the Middle East. The paper has been published in ‘Environmental Science & Technology (ES&T)’, a highly-respected American Chemical Society journal which selects few papers for publication.

The study was conducted in one of the busiest highways in Kuwait, and found that there were up to 20-times as many particles as would typically be found in European roadside environments.

"Considering the adverse effects of these particles on public health, the findings of our new research will trigger research activities in this area in the Middle East region."

Dr Prashant Kumar

Airborne nanoparticles (particles below 100 nm in diameter) are caused mainly by road traffic emissions, with both diesel- and petrol-filled engines producing high particle number concentrations (PNCs) during acceleration, high speed and cold start conditions. These nanoparticles are known to have a detrimental effect on human health because of their ability to deposit in the lungs and move to other parts of the body, and are believed to be responsible for around 310,000 deaths per year in Asian megacities, according to another research paper published by Dr Kumar.

Researchers Dr Kumar and his PhD student Abdullah N. Al-Dabbous found that while the gasoline-driven fleet of on-road vehicles in Kuwait increased the overall levels of PNCs, the peaks in PNCs were surprisingly missing during the hottest part of the day (around noon) when temperatures climbed to about 50˚C, despite there being a large volume of traffic. Major ‘dust events’, carrying larger size particles, were also found to reduce PNCs significantly – another finding not reported before.

As the first scientific study of its kind to focus on the Middle East, the study’s findings will be of great interest to the pollution monitoring and modelling community, and for the region’s regulatory authorities, which are only just beginning to become aware of the levels and health effects of nanoparticles.

Dr Kumar said, “Considering the adverse effects of these particles on public health, the findings of our new research will trigger research activities in this area in the Middle East region, where this type of work is yet to pick up pace.”

He added, “I’m glad that over two years’ worth of hard work on this research has paid off and thank Abdullah for his dedication, patience and hard work, which has helped to make this work visible to the scientific community and a general audience. Getting our work published in ES&T, which is a Quartile 1 journal with a very high rejection rate, has been a delightful moment, demonstrating the quality of research produced in the Department of Civil & Environmental Engineering.”

‘Number Size Distribution of Airborne Nanoparticles during Summertime in Kuwait: First Observations from the Middle East’ was published on 3 November. Dr Kumar has now published 18 journal articles in 2014.


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