Irish Air Quality Study
The Environmental Health Sciences Institute at DIT
with Dublin City Council and the HSE
This project is a collaboration between Dublin Institute of Technology(DIT), Dublin City Council (DCC) assisted by the Health Service Executive (HSE) and funded by the Environmental Protection Agency EPA under the “STRIVE” funding programme (see www.epa.ie for more information).
The project commenced on 1st January 2011 and is scheduled to run for 18 months.
Generally Ireland is recognized as having some of the best air quality in Europe and deservedly so. However from time to time, and under certain weather conditions, it is possible to experience some air pollution in the larger towns and cities.
Ireland is required under EU legislation to monitor air quality in large urban areas to ensure that the health of the population is not put at risk.
The main sources of air pollution are from motor vehicles, fuel usage in heating systems, such as coal, oil, wood, turf etc, and from industrial processes.
It has been known for centuries that air pollution can be harmful to health (Brimblecombe4). In his book documentation references to air pollution through the ages, Brimblecombe references Swift in Dublin, recording that doctors “advised their ill patients to move to the suburbs away from the foul air of the city”. Another interesting aspect to Brimblecombe is that a significant amount of the pollution events he refers to are due to coal burning, and he discussed policies introduced to reduce coal usage, in the 15th to 19th centuries. However it was only really in the 20th century that our knowledge and understanding of air pollution developed. A number of well documented cases of severe air pollution, Donora in Pennsylvenia5, London 19526 and also here in Dublin 1982, were shown to be associated with significant increases in mortality. In the London episode of 1952 over 4000 excess deaths were recorded over the 2 week period of the air pollution, others now believe that the excess death toll was significantly higher than the official reports, and they estimate the excess deaths at about 12,0007.
However the events mentioned above were all very severe air pollution episodes, the question arises as to whether adverse effects of air pollution can be detected at low levels of pollution. From the 1980s onwards various studies around the world have added to our knowledge in this respect. The Harvard six cities study8 was a publication that brought the issue of air pollution and heath straight into the public eye, their work showed that people living in the city with the highest air pollution had the shortest life expectancy, and that those in the least polluted had the longest life expectancy. The big issue however, was that air pollution in all of these cities was within the USEPA guidelines in force at that time.
The results from the multi-city studies in Europe APHEA9 and NNMAPS10 in the US show that adverse health effects are still detectable at low levels of air pollution, and that there is no safe “threshold”. In recognition of the adverse health effects of ambient airborne pollution the USEPA in the US, and the European commission in Europe have set air quality guidelines since the 1970s, these guidelines have been continually revised, and both the limit values, and the pollutants specified have changed over time. The current EU1 guidelines require that the following pollutants be measured particulate matter; PM10, PM2.5 and Polyaromatic Hydrocarbons, PAHs (there are others specified as well).
The EU legislation1 requires member states to conduct measurements of various pollutants in large urban centres (populations > 15,000) and in centres where pollution levels are considered to be high. Traditionally particulate air pollution was measured using a technique known as the “Black Smoke” method (BS1747 and CEC 1980)11, which measured the “blackness” of a filter due to the pollution contained on that filter. This particular technique had been designed to monitor air pollution from coal burning. Mc Farlane et al12 showed that this technique corresponded to a particle size cut-off of about 4.4 microns.
The most recent EPA report on air quality in Ireland for the year 200913 (published 2010) reports on the measurement of both PM10 and Black Smoke (BS) in Ireland. In respect of the BS measurements it can be seen that most of these are made in large urban areas, where interventions have already been made to ban the burning of bituminous coal. Similarly the measurement of PM10 is also limited to the large cities and the 15 biggest towns. This leaves large parts of the country where no monitoring or very limited monitoring of the air quality has occurred, and involves a significant amount of the population.
This project involves the monitoring of air quality in four large Irish towns over the period of one year. The four owns selected are;
Suitable monitoring sites were identified in each of these towns. The sites were chosen to meet the requirements of an “urban background monitoring site”, and also took account of the availability of a secure location for the equipment and the availability of a power supply for the equipment.
Black smoke monitoring commenced :
- Navan 7/2/11
- Letterkenny 16/2/11
- Killarney 24/3/11
- Tralee 24/3/11
PM10 & PM 2.5 commenced/finished:
- Navan 1/4/11 to 6/7/11
(the equipment will return after 6 months for a further 3 months monitoring)
- Tralee 24/3/11 to 26/6/11
(the equipment will return after 6 months for a further 3 months monitoring)
- Killarney 27/6/11
- Letterkenny 8/7/11
(Note: it was only possible to acquire two PM10/2.5 units, hence the need to move them between centres)
The filters which are collected at the monitoring sites and analyzed for the presence of Benzo(a)pyrene and 6 other PAHs.
The Project Team
The project is led by Prof. Pat Goodman from DIT, he provides overall project management, and is also responsible for ensuring that all aspects of the project are delivered. He is also working on a literature review of the subject area which will be included in the final project report.
Martin Fitzpatrick from DCC is in charge of the onsite monitoring of the BS and PM, and he is assisted by the following DCC staff Sarah Middleton, Michelle McNally, Derval Coyne, Paddy Douglas
They are also assisted by local HSE staff at each of the monitoring sites.
The Chemical analysis of the filters is led by Dr Barry Foley in DIT, and he is assisted by Mr Peter Brien in DIT.
Prof. Douglas Dockery of the Harvard School of Public health is a special external advisor to the project.
Results and Updates
Results and updates on the project will be posted here as and when they become available.
- 4 Brimblecombe, P. “The Big Smoke”. Methuen and Co. London 1987
- 5 Snyder, Lynne Page (1994). "'The Death-Dealing Smog Over Donora, Pennsylvania':
Industrial Air Pollution, Public Health Policy, and the Politics of Expertise." Environmental History Review 18(1):117–139
- 6 HMSO. 1954. Her Majesty`s Public Health Service. Mortality and Morbidity during the London Fog of December 1952. Public Health and Medical Subjects Report No. 95. London:Her Majesty’s Stationery Office.
- 7 Bell ML, Davis DL. 2001. Reassessment of the lethal London fog of 1952: novel indicators of acute and chronic consequences of acute exposure to air pollution. Environ Health Perspect 109(suppl 3):389–394.
- 8 Douglas W. Dockery, C. Arden Pope, Xiping Xu, John D. Spengler, James H. Ware, Martha E. Fay, Benjamin G. Ferris, and Frank E. Speizer An Association between Air Pollution and Mortality in Six U.S. Cities. NEJM Volume 329:1753-1759. 1993
- 9 APHEA (Air Pollution and Health—A European Approach) Project. 1996. Short-term effects of air pollution on health: a European approach using epidemiological time series data. J Epidemiol Comm Health 50(suppl 1):S3–S80.
- 10 Jonathan M Samet, Scott L Zeger, Francesca Dominici, Frank Curriero, Ivan Coursac, Douglas W Dockery, Joel Schwartz, and Antonella Zanobetti. The National Morbidity, Mortality, and Air Pollution Study Part II: Morbidity and Mortality from Air Pollution in the United States. Health Effects Institute No. 94. June 2000
- 11. British Standards Institute. Standard No. 1747. Methods for the Measurement of Air Pollution. Part 2, Determination of Concentrations of Suspended Matter; British Standards Institute: London, U.K., 1969.
- 12 Mc Farland, A. R., Ortiz, C.A., and Rodes, C. E. Wind Tunnel evaluation of the British Smoke shade sampler. Atmos. Environ. 16: No. 2, 325-328. 1982.
- 13 Irish EPA Report. Air Quality in Ireland 2009, Key Indicators of ambient air Quality. www.EPA.ie 2010