July 11th, 2019
Nitrogen Dioxide (NO2) levels in parts of the capital have exceeded EU limits for the air pollutant, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has warned.
According to a new report published by the EPA, NO2 pollution in certain city centre streets, the M50 motorway and the entrance to and exit from the Dublin Port Tunnel is problematic, with long-term exposure described as harmful to the public’s health.
NO2 is strongly linked with traffic emissions and levels of the air polluting chemical vary depending on factors including, density of traffic, ages, types, speed of the vehicles, weather condition and road size.
People with asthma, as well as children and the elderly, are typically more susceptible to adverse health effects of NO2, which includes emphysema and other respiratory issues, according to the report.
As part of the National Ambient Air Quality Monitoring Programme, new equipment to assess air quality is being installed across the country, and EPA researchers had used the technology to analyse NO2 values in Dublin.
The new report emphasised that local authorities will be legally obliged to prepare “air quality action plans” to address the issue if further monitoring confirms that EU limits of NO2 are being exceeded in Dublin.
The report which is an “indicative” analysis of NO2 levels in Dublin’s air, however, concludes that in “many residential areas” NO2 levels are “well-beneath” the recommended EU limits.
Dr Ciara McMahon, EPA’s Programme Manager, said that the new findings are a “cause for concern”. “Traffic is the dominant source of Nitrogen Dioxide in our urban areas, and the public must be supported in taking clean transport choices if we want to reduce nitrogen dioxide concentrations in the air we breathe,” she said.
Patrick Kenny, EPA’s Air Quality manager, also emphasised that traffic-generated NO2 is problematic in Dublin and has prompted the EPA to “start discussions with the relevant authorities”.
“The findings of this report are supported by monitoring data at the new air quality monitoring station at St Johns Road West in Dublin,” he said.
Speaking to The Green News, John Wenger, a Professor in Physical and Environmental Chemistry at University College Cork (UCC), urged Cork City Council to monitor NO2 levels in areas with higher motor traffic closely.
“Pollution levels can vary significantly from street to street in the urban environment. So, we definitely more monitoring in Cork city centre,” he said.
“It is also important to make the air quality information public so that vulnerable citizens, such as those with respiratory conditions such as asthma can make informed decisions about their daily activities.”
Prof Wenger continued that levels of particulate matter also need to be carefully measured to safeguard the public’s health, with results made available to the public. “These fine particles are actually invisible to the human eye, but can be breathed straight into the lungs, affecting breathing and heart performance,” he said.
Stating that encouraging the public to use green modes of transportation is necessary, Prof Wenger added that there are also more “punitive” approaches available to address the issue.
“Restrict access to cars, especially older diesels, which are the most polluting, this has been done in other cities across Europe through the introduction of low emission zones,” he said. “Any new buses deployed in Cork should be electric vehicles as they have no emissions of nitrogen dioxide.”