Donal Hickey: There’s something in the air

Donal Hickey: There’s something in the air

THE open fire in the sittingroom has been replaced by the more efficient solid-fuel stove. But the smoke must still go somewhere.

You need only walk in residential areas of any city or town these cold and damp nights to notice air pollution. Last December, the air in monitored parts of Cork city was found to be of poor quality, even by European standards.

If you can’t see it, you will certainly smell it and, after a while, you will taste it. In low-lying towns, air pollution can lead to a form of smog. Standing on high ground above Killarney, Co Kerry, on clear, windless nights, I’ve seen a thick cloud sitting over the town and partially obscuring public lighting.

The EPA warns that emissions from solid-fuel burning are the greatest threat to good air, closely followed by transport emissions.

Some experts now claim poor quality air is as harmful as tobacco smoke. The EPA says our air quality is good relative to other EU countries, but does not measure up to World Health Organisation standards.

Chief sources of this pollution are emissions from vehicles in urban areas and from burning of solid fuels, such as coal, timber, and turf. These pollutants take the form of tiny solid or liquid particles.

Poor air quality has short-term health implications, such as headaches, breathing difficulties, and eye irritation, and long-term effects, including asthma, cancer, reduced liver function, or heart disease.

Wood is a renewable fuel, but scientists in UK universities are now saying wood-burning may cancel out any gains made by more air-friendly transport. EU research shows domestic solid-fuel burning accounts for 45% of total emissions of fine particulates, three times more than road transport.

According to Sarah O’Connor, chief executive of the Asthma Society of Ireland, 1,800 people died prematurely in 2016 due to breathing polluted air. The 380,000 people who have asthma in Ireland are at an increased risk of death because of air pollution.

Worryingly, new evidence identifies traffic pollution as a cause of asthma in children, she adds.

And, like so many other matters regarding the environment, the asthma society believes children may be the key to tackling air pollution. A Clear Air Competition for second-level schools will educate young people on the detrimental health effects of breathing polluted air, while also encouraging them to improve air quality in their localities.

To enter the competition, students must take an action against air pollution, document the action, and post about the action on social media.

  • See asthma.ie

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