How bad is the air we breathe?

Monday, 19 February 2001

Release date: 19 February, 2001

How bad is the air we breathe?

New Environmental Study to investigate latest levels

The dramatic increase in the volume of traffic, regularly causing gridlock on our city streets, is not simply a cause of frustration but also a health hazard. There are other air pollutants however, and although traffic is an important source, its contribution to air pollution levels is not yet quantified for Irish cities.

A major three-year survey headed by Professor Gerard Jennings of the Air Quality Technology Centre, Department of Experimental Physics at NUI, Galway will investigate the impact of various factors, including transport on air quality. The project, funded to amount £411,000, is part of the Environmental Research Programme 2000-2006 of the National Development Plan, which is beingimplemented by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

"The main objective of the research will be to determine the principal sources of particulate matter (PM) emitted to urban air, by obtaining the chemical composition of the air pollution particles", says Professor Jennings. Primary sources such as road traffic and industry and secondary sources, resulting from chemical reaction of vehicle exhaust gases, will be identified. Urban pollution also comes from rural sources. "Air pollution knows no boundaries," warns Professor Jennings, "so it is important to obtain the contribution of trans-boundary air pollution to urban levels."

"Time is running out for us to put our house in order in this regard," says Professor Jennings. "Compliance must to be reached by 2005 with stringent air quality standards for aerosol particulate levels, laid down by the European Union. These standards are measured in terms of mass concentration of particles smaller than 10 micrometres in diameter, so called PM10

Five sampling sites will be used in the Study, with two sampling locations in Dublin City (College Street and the Civic Offices, Dublin Corporation) and one in Cork City. A rural site in County Galway (near Ballinasloe) and a coastal site on the east coast will also be used.

It is hoped to identify areas vulnerable to exceedances of PM limits and to understand the causes of these exceedances and their potential impact on air quality and health- related issues. Where exceedances do occur, it will be necessary to introduce measures in order to reduce emissions of PM10 substances, so as to secure compliance limits set by the European Union.

Professor Jennings has already carried out a ground-breaking study in partnership with Dublin Corporation and TMS Environment Ltd., at six Dublin City sites over a thirteen-month period from January 1996 to January 1997. He says that, "the role of pollutant aerosol particles takes on extra significance because of the linkage of PM10 and PM2.5 (particles less than 2.5 micrometres in size) with human health. A strong association has been found between morbidity rates and increased PM levels, as shown for example by several studies in US cities".

A consortium of partners, co-ordinated by Prof. S. Gerard Jennings, will participate in this new Study. They include: University of Birmingham, Division of Environmental Health (Prof. R.M. Harrison, Dr. A.G. Allen); Dublin Corporation - Atmospheric Pollution and Environment Unit (Ms Evelyn Wright), and University College Cork, Department of Chemistry (Prof. John Sodeau, Dr.John Wenger), in collaboration with Cork Corporation (Edmond Barry).

Professor Jennings is available for interview on this Study

Ends

For further details: Máire Mhic Uidhir, Press Officer, NUI, Galway. Tel. 091-750418

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