Manchester Urban Observatory supporting research in Lebanon


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As a PhD candidate at the University of Manchester, the main objectives of my study are to measure the levels of black carbon (BC) pollutants in the air, identify biological markers through urine samples, conduct epi-genetic testing on cord blood samples and study the results in the light of health morbidities among newborns.

Exposure to BC has been shown to have direct and indirect impacts on newborns’ health. Indirect effects were shown when particles deposit in the alveolar level and induce oxidative stress and inflammatory mediators such as cytokines affecting placental functioning and consequently fetal development; as for the direct effect, BC particles that access the blood system are able to cross the placenta and intervene in vital developmental and biological processes that are crucial for embryonic development. Significant numbers of studies have associated higher exposure to air pollution/BC with higher rates of low birth weight, endocrine disruption, fetal and placental developmental problems.

On July 2019, all air monitoring stations across Lebanon have been shut down due to budget cuts as the country started to enter an unprecedented economic crisis. More recently, Lebanon have been suffering high levels of air pollution, ranking 5th worldwide and 1st in the region. The annual average upsurge of air pollutants often exceeds WHO guidelines by 150-200% putting the Lebanese community at high risk of diseases.

As I started my PhD in 2018, little did we know the country was heading into a tough economic crisis that would force us to change plans. The plan was to use one air monitoring device in addition to the data collected by the existing air monitoring stations. However, just when the field work was about to start, all air monitoring stations were shut down and a malfunctioning happened to the monitor which had to be sent for maintenance in San Francisco.

Hitting a brick wall, unplanned support was needed in order to accomplish my field work. Thus, we approached the Manchester Urban Observatory (MUO) for assistance. The MUO personnel were kind enough to agree on sending two MicroAeth 350 and three Metrological stations to Lebanon for a period of nine months to help me accomplish my field work.

While there are many studies assessing air pollution in Lebanon. There is a huge scarcity in exposure assessment and personal air monitoring studies assessing the exposure of the Lebanese community to the hugh levels of pollutants present in the Lebanese environment. The support of the MUO will allow us to provide data on urban vs. rural exposure as well as identify the highest areas struck by pollution. This research project will contribute to the closure of the gap in studying the adverse health effects of air pollution and better protect newborns and the general population.

To sum up, the data from this research is crucial for addressing the health effects of air pollution in Lebanon and the Arab world. This PhD will not only allow the establishment of a strong base to inform policy but will set the ground for future international collaborations and further environmental health research in Lebanon. Lastly, this project would not have been possible without the generous support of the Manchester Urban Observatory.

We welcome feedback from the public and other interested parties about this emerging capability (muo@manchester.ac.uk). Our equipment is available to hire through the MUO equipment pool for urban projects and interested parties are invited to fill out the equipment request form and contact Thomas Bannan to discuss the objectives of the proposed deployment.