Huge black smoke plume over the city of Jahra

Huge black smoke plume over the city of Jahra

Huge black smoke plume over the city of Jahra

Kuwait woke up on the morning of Tuesday, 17 April 2012 to a huge black smoke plume from a massive fire which broke out overnight in the waste tires dumping site in "Rheya" located about 5 km south of the city of Jahra. Due to the southern wind during the night and early morning, the plume had moved for more than 10 kilometers carrying toxic combustion gases and soot particles above the city of Jahra, covering most of its regions with a huge black smoke. As the wind changes its direction during the daytime, the smoke plume spread over other parts of Kuwait.

Since the early hours of the day, the Environment Public Authority (EPA) was present along with other authorities at the forefront of the burning tires site in "Rheya" to deal with the fire smoke and the consequences of air pollution. A team of managers and technical EPA staff were present at the site forming like an "Environmental Operation Room" to closely monitor the environmental situation and the online readings of various air pollutants measured continuously by the EPA air quality monitoring stations in Saad Al-Abdallah, Al-Jahra and  Al-Mutlaa.

As the fire brigades, the National Guards and the Kuwaiti Army and other relevant authorities continued to reach the fire site, the Environment Public Authority opened direct channels of communication with the Information Minister "Sheikh Mohammed Abdullah Al-Mubarak Al-Sabah" for the transparent transmission of the environmental situation to the media and the public. In addition, EPA also communicated with the Minister of Education "Dr. Naif Alhajraf" to consult on whether schools in Jahra should be closed according to the development of the air pollution situation. In order to monitor the air quality from all directions around the fire site, EPA also moved two of its mobile air quality monitoring laboratories into Kabed Protected Area and Sulaibiyeh wastewater treatment plant.


The "Environmental Operation Room" continued its work at the site where the mobile air pollution monitoring laboratories operated by EPA were continuously measuring the air quality at various locations. In addition, EPA was transparent in announcing the air quality readings measured by the different air quality stations in Kuwait in general, and those stations close to the fire site, in particular. EPA has long-declared the seriousness of the disastrous situation at the used tires dumping site in "Rheya" and confirmed earlier to the eruption of fire that the site poses a potential threat and alarmed of an environmental disaster if the tires were set on fires. EPA always urged the responsible authorities to deal with the "Rheya" site in a scientific and practical modern methods to ensure quick response in order to avoid what has happened.

As part of its continuing efforts to deal with environmental effects of the burning used tires, EPA formed several teams from various departments at EPA to study and follow-up the environmental situation after extinguishing the fire, in particular, regarding the possible contamination of the soil with carbonaceous pollutants and heavy metals as well as to study the air pollution around the clock. The various EPA teams will write up their findings in scientific reports and compare the environmental situation in the area with the situation before the eruption of the fire.

The Environmental Monitoring Information System of Kuwait (eMISK) obtained satellite images from NASA for the fire incident. The following images show time series of the MODIS imageries that captured the location before, during and after the fire incident. The satellite image of April 17, 2012 shows that the smoke plume resulting from the burning tires extended several tens of kilometers over Al-Doha Port and Kuwait Bay.

صورة الأقمار الصناعية بتاريخ الأثنين 16 أبريل 2012 - صورة الأقمار الصناعية بتاريخ الثلاثاء 17 أبريل 2012

The Environment Public Authority performed detailed analysis of the concentrations of major air pollutants measured at three air quality monitoring stations in Saad Abdallah, Al-Jahra and Al-Mutlaa where the results showed a slight increase in the concentrations of some pollutants such as total hydrocarbons (THC), nitrogen oxides (NOx) and carbon monoxide (CO). However, it should be noted that these minor increases in the concentration of some pollutants are still much lower than the allowable national ambient air quality standards. We believe that the reason for not recording high pollutants concentrations at the ground level is the fact that hot gases and soot particles present in the smoke plume rise high up in the sky and dilute rapidly while they are being transported. The map below shows the locations of the air quality monitoring stations in relation to the fire site in "Rheya".


The hourly averages of measured concentrations of major air pollutants (THC, NOX and CO) at Al-Jahra Air Quality Monitoring Station (located on the roof of the Dental Hospital) were correlated with the measured wind direction during the day of the fire (17th April, 2012). The pollution roses shown below indicate that the most marked increases in the measured concentrations were originated from the southerly direction (i.e. indicating to the fire site in Rheya present in the south of Al-Jahra).

Nevertheless, it must be pointed out to the danger of the smoke, soot and volatile organic compounds (VOCs) produced during the incomplete combustion of used tires as they contain toxic compounds such as Polycyclic Aromatic Hydrocarbons (PAHs), Dioxins & Furans and some heavy metals usually found in tires.

Thanks God firefighters managed to control the blaze and confined the fire into a small area and put out the fire before the end of the day.  The concerted actions and the collective efforts of five fire brigades centers along with the National Guards and Kuwait Municipality made it possible to bring this terrible incident into a peaceful end.

Kuwait Environment Public Authority urged citizens and residents to take certain precautions to protect their health and safety and prevent exposure to pollutants by keeping away from the fire site and to windows closed and to ensure that the air condition system is working properly and the filters are cleaned.