80% of Dublin air monitors exceed WHO limits for traffic-related pollution

— 1,000 monitors were in place as part of Clear Air Together Citizen Science Project.

80% of Dublin air monitors in places as part of the Clear Air Together Citizen Science Project showed results that exceed World Health Originatztion (WHO) guidelines for Nitrogen dioxide (NO2), a type of pollution associated with motor traffic.

The worst affected area is in and around the city centre, which has a high concentration of main roads. Althought among residents of the area, car ownership is low and car usage even lower.

On its website, WHO states: “The current WHO guideline value of 10 µg/m3 (annual mean) was set to protect the public from the health effects of gaseous nitrogen dioxide.”

It added that “Epidemiological studies have shown that symptoms of bronchitis in asthmatic children increase in association with long-term exposure to NO2. Reduced lung function growth is also linked to NO2 at concentrations currently measured (or observed) in cities of Europe and North America.”

Although the EPA has previously warned that EU standards will likely be made stricter over time, it does not mention the WHO limits because it is tied to lower EU standards, which are not in line with the available evidence and understood to be set for political reasons.

None of the monitor locations exceeded the EU air quality limit which is set at 40 µg/m3 — four times higher than the WHO limit.

When it lower its limits last year, WHO said: “Since WHO’s last 2005 global update, there has been a marked increase of evidence that shows how air pollution affects different aspects of health. For that reason, and after a systematic review of the accumulated evidence, WHO has adjusted almost all the Global Air Quality Guidelines levels downwards, warning that exceeding the new air quality guideline levels is associated with significant risks to health. At the same time, however, adhering to them could save millions of lives.”

The pattern in Dublin indicates that the manor source of NO2 is from motor vehicles, the EPA said.

In a press release issued last night, the EPA said: “Results showed that, while NO2 levels across Dublin city and county were generally good, higher levels were found near busy roads. This is not unexpected, as NO2 comes mainly from traffic. None of the levels reported in this project exceeded the EU annual average limit (40 µg/m3) but it should be noted that lower levels of NO2, are better for everyone’s health.”

It added: “On the map, higher NO2 results are represented as orange dots and yellow dots – mostly present in the city centre (within the canals) and along some of the major roads in Dublin city.  Moving outwards to the suburbs and away from major roads, the lower levels of NO2 (light blue) are found. Most of the lowest results (dark blue dots) can be found further away on the outer suburbs of Dublin, sea-side towns and countryside of Dublin county.”

IMAGE: Only the dark blue dots are locations which did not exceed the WHO limits — image from Clear Air Together Citizen Science Project (CC BY-SA 2.0).

Clean Air Strategy for Ireland

Public consultation on the draft Clean Air Strategy was launched this week by environment Minister Eamon Ryan. The draft refers to the new WHO limits in a table in an overview section, but then goes on to only look at the EU limits in the section on ‘Nitrogen Oxides in the Ambient Air’.

The draft Clean Air Strategy said: “In 2019, there was an official monitored exceedance of the annual average EU limit for NO2 at the St. John’s Road West monitoring station in Dublin. The average annual concentration measured was 43μg/m3, in breach of the EU limit of 40μg/m3. This was as a result of heavy traffic in the area.”

“This exceedance has been reported to the European Commission, and in order to address the issues an Air Quality Action Plan was developed by the four Dublin local authorities supported by the EPA, this Department, the Department of Transport and the UTRAP group. The report was submitted to the Commission in December 2021 and is currently being reviewed.”

With no direct reference to the reduced traffic levels due to the pandemic lockdowns, the same section of the strategy states: “The relevant data shows no exceedance for 2020.” Although another section of the report outlines: “Indications point to a significant decrease of NOx emissions from the transport sector, particularly in the early stages of the pandemic, when levels were down by up to 50% across several monitoring stations.”

On Tuesday, Minister Ryan said: “While we are fortunate that our air quality is generally good, it is still estimated that 1,410 people die prematurely each year in Ireland due to air pollution. I am committed to addressing this critical public health and environmental challenge.”

Clear Air Together Citizen Science Project

The Clear Air Together Citizen Science Project, led by the EPA and the Environmental Education Unit of An Taisce.

Andy Fanning, programme manager in EPA, said: “Clean Air Together is a real success story for Citizen Science, with almost one thousand residents in Dublin measuring the levels of air pollution in their local areas.  While the EPA has fixed air pollution monitoring sites in Dublin, this project has given us data about many areas that we are currently unable to monitor.”

He added: “This is the first time such a study has been run in Ireland and we are thrilled to see the level of interest.”

Sabrina Moore, Clean Air Together project manager An Taisce’s Environmental Education Unit said: “The level of interest in this project shows people’s growing awareness of the importance of good air quality in their city, and a genuine interest in helping to protect their environment.”

She added: “So, what can we all do for our air quality? Where possible we should try to limit our personal car use by using public transport more often, or by walking or cycling. Continued investments in these infrastructures will make these choices easier. By shifting our behaviour we can make a difference and ensure that air quality is healthier across the city”.

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