Wednesday 17 September 2008

EPA warns of rise in NO2 levels as traffic increases

POLLUTION FROM nitrogen dioxide (NO2) and fine dust particles, damaging to people’s lungs, could rise in Ireland’s urban areas with further increases in traffic, according to the latest air quality report by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

Air Quality in Ireland 2007, compiled by EPA researcher Barbara O’Leary, shows that all monitoring stations throughout the State met EU standards.

However, levels of particulate matter (PM10) were relatively high in smaller towns due to continued use of bituminous coal.

The release of the report yesterday was timed to coincide with European Mobility Week, which runs until September 22nd. This year’s theme is “Clean Air for All” a goal threatened here mainly by traffic and the use of smoky fuel in smaller urban areas.

EPA programme manager Dr Ciarán O’Donnell said: “What our results for 2007 show is that there is a strong link between air quality and local emissions. Traffic and smoky fuel are the two main causes of poor air quality in Ireland.”

Given high levels of traffic in Dublin and other cities and the continued burning of bituminous coal in areas where its sale is not banned, he said the public should “consider the environmental effects of their choice of domestic fuel and mode of transport”.

NO2 and PM10 were the main pollutants. NO2 levels were highest in the most urbanised areas, mainly due to traffic density. Particulates were highest in cities and smaller towns, probably due to traffic density in cities and use of non-smokeless fuel in smaller towns.

PM10 levels have fallen significantly at Winetavern Street in Dublin since 1998 and are now similar to those measured in Rathmines, possibly due to changes in traffic patterns, according to the report.

“The threat of exceeding the [EU] limit value [35 days greater than 50 microgrammes per cubic metre] remains a possibility at these and other locations affected by emissions from traffic or from solid-fuel burning should unfavourable weather conditions occur.”

Although there was “no discernible change” in NO2 concentrations at Winetavern Street and Old Station Road in Cork, the report warned that higher levels in urban areas “have the potential to pose a threat to compliance with the annual limit value.”

Black-smoke concentrations in Dublin, Limerick and Cork have fallen dramatically since the 1990s, reflecting the effectiveness of smoke-control legislation introduced in greater Dublin in 1990 which banned the marketing, sale and distribution of bituminous coal.

The ban on bituminous coal came into force in Cork city in 1995 and in Arklow, Drogheda, Dundalk, Limerick and Wexford in 1998. It was extended to Celbridge, Galway, Leixlip, Naas and Waterford in 2000 and to Bray, Kilkenny, Sligo and Tralee in 2003.

Sulphur dioxide concentrations have declined significantly since the early 1990s due to the more widespread use of smokeless coal as well as the lower sulphur content of fuels generally, and consumers switching from solid fuel to oil or gas for heating.

Benzene levels in Dublin and Cork have also decreased significantly since 2001 and are now “well within the [EU] limit value which comes into force in 2010”, the report says, mainly because of a reduction in the average benzene concentration in petrol to 0.7 per cent. Lead concentrations have been very low since leaded petrol was phased out in 2000.

The Irish Times

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