Air Quality: What You Said

Bob Castro, a UAB reader, responded to our post asking for feedback on air quality at overseas posts. He pointed out that there are many kinds of pollution — and that it can be expensive for families to combat them and their effects. Among his thoughts:

We thought the air in Manama, Bahrain, was better because we came directly from Cairo. But air quality is deceptively more caustic and mixed automotive exhaust smog, desert sand, agricultural burn-back, and sewage smells create a stinging cocktail that gives many residents red/teary eyes, constant low-level cough, and post-nasal drip — not just allergies but physiological reaction to processing all the gunk in the air through our nasal passages, throats, and lungs.

A friend at the local engineering society commented that the fine granularity of the sand here means that it is picked up by winds more easily and travels farther.  Moreover, since the prevailing winds come from the north, Bahrain is in the fallout zone from much of the explosives and debris of what has been bombed in Iraq and Syria over the last decade — including known poisons, carcinogens, building materials, and smoke from smoldering zones.  Even when skies are “clear” on a Friday morning, caustic materials are in the air; it rarely rains to clean the atmosphere.  Unfortunately, no reliable estimate of the AQI exists here.

Respiratory conditions were mentioned in our submission for the latest post allowances survey, in part: Poor air quality leading to repeated acute medical cases have become chronic illnesses requiring long-term medications and ongoing Rx refills for multiple members of our family, and likely many others in the Embassy Manama community.  While health insurance covers a percentage of this cost for outside consultations with ENTs and pharmacies, it is nonetheless an added expense that likely will not be necessary once we move back to “clean air” postings. 

We also have invested in high-end air filtration systems for each room (as a personal expense) in response to respiratory distress suffered by our infant daughter within days upon her arrival in Bahrain.  The replacement rate of the HEPA disposable filters here in Bahrain is more frequent than we experienced before — at one point, I weighed the three used filters in a single appliance while replacing them with new filters we had shipped in directly from the USA: EACH weighed 8 pounds greater than the new filter (x3=24 pounds of pollutants), accumulated within just 6-8 months from the previous replacement.  Since our arrival, one of the US-purchased appliances has failed — likely requiring hundreds of dollars to replace on the local economy or to ship in from the USA.  (The most sophisticated Blue Air unit we utilize costs almost $1,000).

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