Sunday 16 December 2018

Air quality in Ross 'worse than Beijing'

Council scientist Brendan Cooney in Ard Mhicil
Council scientist Brendan Cooney in Ard Mhicil

David Looby

The air quality in New Ross was worse than Beijing in mid-December - leading to urgent calls for a text alert system for the town's 9,000 residents to protect their health.

Air pollution kills around 1,300 Irish people annually and arising from the dangerously high readings in New Ross, the Government has sanctioned funding to monitor other towns in the county, starting with Bunclody and Gorey, and moving on to Wexford and Enniscorthy.

Senior Executive Scientist with Wexford County Council Brendan Cooney said New Ross town's geographical position in a valley means smoke from coal fires does not dissipate leading to the high readings.

'Everything settles down, (all the particulates) and the town is not designated a smokeless zone,' he said.

Combined with cold weather and little to no wind lately, the results are plain to see with residents complaining of shortness of breath from 4 p.m. many winter days.

'On foot of the results we got in New Ross the department have decided to make the whole country smokeless. Three weeks ago there was such poor air quality that a UCC professor noted that New Ross had worse air quality than Beijing in 2008 when there were fears athletes would not be able to compete in the smog.'

The Air Quality Monitoring system in Ard Mhicil estate on Thursday showed a reading of 55 pm10 particles and over 90 total particles.

Mr Cooney said particulates the size of a fraction of a width of hair are measured from a pole erected in Ard Mhicil every 15 minutes and can be viewed on the council's website. 'We are the first in the country to do this,' Mr Cooney said, adding that a text alert is planned for New Ross residents on days when the air quality exceeds a certain limit and is dangerously poor, subject to approval from the Environmental Protection Agency. Mr Cooney said the Department of the Environment was only receiving daily averages from most urban areas, but has been getting 15 minute updates from New Ross. 'From 4 or 5 p.m. the readings start going up as people come home from work and at 10 p.m. they go back down again. This has been communicated to the department and to the minister. People don't realise the dangers. Air pollution kills 1,300 Irish people every year. People don't realise it; they might have asthma and get an asthma attack, or people with pulmonary or heart disease die because the particulates get into the bloodstream.'

The county's four other urban centres will be getting air quality monitoring stations following the council's work in New Ross. 'They are not expensive to run, you just have the electricity costs and they need to be taken off for calibration once a year.'

New Ross Standard