Dust sends children indoors as PE lessons cancelled

PHYSICAL Education lessons were yesterday cancelled at primary and secondary schools due to increased dust concentration levels in the atmosphere, following advice from Labour Ministry inspectors.

Education Ministry permanent secretary Olympia Stylianou issued instructions to all primary, secondary and technical schools as soon as her Ministry was informed that going ahead with PE lessons could pose a health hazard for pupils. The cancellation of all PE lessons would continue today, the memo said.

Department of Labour Inspection officer Savvas Kleanthous explained that although dust concentration levels were much lower than they had been on Saturday, they were still five times higher than the acceptable level.

On Saturday, dust, carried to Cyprus by north-westerly winds from North Africa, sent dozens of people into hospital and saw the cancellation of flights.

Kleanthous said the dust concentration in Nicosia on Saturday was 1,518 micrograms per cubic metre of air, compared to national standards which specify that the ambient air may contain no more than 50 micrograms of PM10 – big particles of Particulate Matter up to 10 micrometres in size.

In Larnaca, PM10 levels reached 1,180 micrograms, 1,420 in Zygi and 1,348 in Ayia Marina Xyliatou. The readings were from areas where air quality measurements were taken, he said.

The Labour Inspection officer said although concentration levels were much lower yesterday, they were still in the region of 450 to 750 micrograms per cubic metre, with an increasing tendency in Larnaca.

On Sunday the dust concentrations were slightly lower than yesterday, he said.
Nicosia saw levels of 245 micrograms per cubic metre and Larnaca and Zygi measured 618 and 835 micrograms respectively. Ayia Marina Xyliatou had the least PM10 with 200 micrograms.

Kleanthous said the department had issued announcements informing the public of the atmospheric situation.

“Sensitive groups, such as the young and old, should not be out and about in open areas if they do not have to,” he said. “When you remain in closed areas, with no open windows, you can limit dust entering your living and breathing space.”

He said although some air conditioning units helped cleared the air, other had filters which trapped dust and increased the concentration of dust.

Kleanthous added the department hoped to have a diagnostic programme up and running by 2008 by which it would be able to predict atmospheric dust up to two days in advance and thus issue public warnings.

On a more positive note, Meteorological Services head Kyriakos Theofilou said weather forecasts predicted the atmosphere was expected to clear completely by tomorrow.

Today’s dust concentration levels are expected to be similar to yesterdays, he said.

However, possible showers predicted for this afternoon will help clear up the dust.

Theofilou said the rains were expected westerly, which would also help wash away residual dust travelling to Cyprus from the west.