Air Quality in Mecca and Surrounding Holy Places in Saudi Arabia during Hajj: Initial Survey
Tuesday, 16 December 2014: 3:25 PM
The Arabian Peninsula experiences severe air pollution yet is highly understudied in terms of surface measurements of ozone and its precursors. Every year the air pollution in Saudi Arabia is intensified by additional traffic and activities during Hajj, the world’s largest religious pilgrimage that draws 3‒4 million pilgrims to Mecca (population of 2 million). Using whole air sampling and high-precision measurements of carbon monoxide (CO) and 97 volatile organic compounds (VOCs), we performed an initial survey of air quality in Mecca, its tunnels, and surrounding holy sites during the 2012 Hajj (October 24-27; n
= 77). This is the first time such a campaign has been undertaken. Levels of the combustion tracer CO and numerous VOCs were strongly elevated along the pilgrimage route, especially in the tunnels of Mecca, and are a concern for human health. For example CO reached 57 ppmv in the tunnels, exceeding the 30-min exposure guideline of 50 ppmv. Benzene, a known carcinogen, reached 185 ppbv in the tunnels, exceeding the 1-hr exposure limit of 9 ppbv. The gasoline evaporation tracer i
-pentane was the most abundant VOC during Hajj, reaching 1200 ppbv in the tunnels. Even though VOC concentrations were generally lower during a follow-up non-Hajj sampling period (April, 2013), many were still comparable to other large cities suffering from poor air quality. Major VOC sources during Hajj included vehicular exhaust, gasoline evaporation, liquefied petroleum gas, and air conditioners. Of the measured compounds, reactive alkenes (associated with gasoline evaporation) and CO showed the strongest potential to form ground-level ozone. Therefore efforts to curb ozone formation likely require dual targeting of both combustive and evaporative fossil fuel sources. However, modeling and other measurements (e.g., nitrogen oxides) are also needed to fully understand Mecca’s oxidative environment. We also present specific recommendations to reduce VOC emissions and exposure in Mecca, and to strengthen air quality monitoring especially in Mecca’s tunnels.