A study of acute childhood asthma in Galway city over a 20-year period found a strong association between black smoke levels and rates of paediatric admission to hospital with the chronic condition.
The study, published in the July-August volume of the Irish Medical Journal, examined the relationship of both air pollution and climatic variables — including rainfall, humidity, sunshine, and wind — to paediatric asthma admissions from 1985-2005.
While the study found “no statistically significant climatological effect” on the monthly hospital admission rates for asthma, it did find “evidence of a positive association between asthma admissions and black smoke levels for 1- to 4-year-olds” and a “positive trend” for 5- to 14-year-olds.
The researchers found paediatric asthma admission rates increased steadily to a peak in 1995 and thereafter diminished dramatically.
This rise and fall in asthma admission rates appears to track the rise and fall in black smoke in the area during the period. The study’s authors say the reduction in black smoke from the mid-90s “is probably a combination of changes in domestic and vehicular fuel use”.
The research says the main coal supplier in the area “noted a trend to the use of smokeless coal in Galway in the mid-1990s”.
More stringent emission standards for bituminous coal were implemented in 1995, so coal supplied in Galway after that year had lower sulphur content and lower smoke emissions. Sale of bituminous coal was banned in 2000, and this was associated with a further small cut in smoke levels.
“Therefore some of the fall in smoke levels from 1995 is due to ‘cleaner’ coal,” the research said.
In conclusion, the authors present an association between a measure of childhood asthma morbidity and black smoke in Galway city.
The authors hypothesise that regulatory changes in the nature of coal and diesel, and more stringent vehicular emission rules have improved air quality and contributed to the reduced incidence of hospital admissions.
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