Young people in east Cork are demanding action on poor air quality after the shock of discovering through a school project that Midleton was bottom of the class in the county.
Students at St Colman’s Community College in Midleton were stunned to discover the disturbing levels of one of the most harmful emissions, nitrogen dioxide, around the school, and have attributed their findings to high levels of traffic congestion.
Nitrogen dioxide, or NO2, is a pollutant that causes inflammation of the airways in high doses, which can cause irreversible damage to the respiratory system.
NO2 has been called one of the worst pollutants by health and environmental experts, and a major shift in environmental policy is under way in recent years across the EU because of its emissions.
St Colman's was one of 108 schools around Ireland that took part in the Globe Air Quality Campaign from October to November 2021.
Globe is an international science education programme running in 126 countries across the world, and is coordinated in Ireland by An Taisce, with the support of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).
While initial analysis overall show that 55% of schools measured low levels of nitrogen dioxide pollution at school under World Health Organization (WHO) guidelines, some 13% of schools recorded medium and higher.
The worst air quality tended to be in urban settings, whether cities or county towns. Midleton fared worst overall in Cork.
The students from St Colman's set up three monitoring stations and said they were disappointed to find that one of their tubes showed the worst air quality from all the schools in the Cork region.
Ava Lutz, a first year student, attributed the high pollution to congestion outside the school:
Fellow first year Anna McCabe said all three readings were above WHO recommended levels. “It doesn’t give a lot of confidence if this is the air we breathe," she added.
Teacher Proinsias Ó Tuama, who guided the students through the project, said he was proud of their commitment as part of the national campaign.
Mr Ó Tuama said: “It is cause for concern when you factor in that there are a few thousand students attending schools in this small geographical area. While some students cycle to school, many report that infrastructure needs to be improved upon to encourage more of them to take this mode of transport."