Thursday 17 October 2019

Dangerous air quality prompts asthmatics 'stay indoors' warning

There is a ban on selling smoky coal in Wexford and district, but householders are travelling outside the area to buy smoky coal and then returning home to burn it
There is a ban on selling smoky coal in Wexford and district, but householders are travelling outside the area to buy smoky coal and then returning home to burn it
Brendan Cooney

David Looby

The Government's failure to introduce a smoky coal ban in the county's towns could have fatal consequences for people suffering from respiratory problems in County Wexford.

A report released last week highlighted how 8,235 of the county's 16,469 people with Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD) remain undiagnosed.

COPD is a type of obstructive lung disease characterized by long-term breathing problems and poor airflow. The main symptoms include shortness of breath and cough with sputum production. COPD is a progressive disease, meaning it typically worsens over time.

Wexford County Council Senior Executive Environmental Scientist, Brendan Cooney said it is dangerous for people suffering from asthma or respiratory problems to go outdoors in New Ross, Enniscorthy and Gorey on cold, frosty nights, as people are burning smoky coal - filling the air with dangerous particulates and sulphur dioxide.

'During periods when it is cold and frosty the air quality in all County Wexford's towns is not good. New Ross and Enniscorthy have the worst air quality on these nights, followed by Gorey and Wexford.'

From 4 p.m. on such winter nights the air becomes thick with health damaging particulates.

Mr Cooney said: 'We are one of the only counties to measure air quality. It's unhealthy, particularly for asthma sufferers and people with respiratory conditions.'

He highlighted a reading from Ard Mhicil estate in New Ross on January 30, showing a level of PM2.5 greater than 80 microgrammes, PM10 greater than 100 microgrammes.

Mr Cooney said: 'The smaller the number the more the particulates. The particulates get into the lungs and the further in they go the more damage they cause to the extent that it can be life threatening for asthmatics because they already have problems with their breathing. Wexford town is not as bad but we have lost our broadband link to our Talbot Green station. New Ross and Enniscorthy are equally as bad.'

Mr Cooney said anyone suffering from regular breathing difficulties should stay indoors in New Ross and Enniscorthy on frosty evenings.

'This is the advice of experts and of the Environmental Protection Agency. The smog sits on top of the town and it's full of (bad) stuff like carcinogens.'

The sale of bituminous (smoky) coal was banned in parts of Ireland in the early 1990s in an effort to address this issue.

'Winter smog' was a growing problem in urban areas at the time, due to the widespread use of bituminous coal, and this, in turn, had given rise to serious health effects in the populations of towns across Ireland.

Both New Ross and Enniscorthy towns are situated in valleys so smoke from house fires does not dissipate easily, especially when calm conditions prevail.

The most dangerous times in towns is between 4 p.m. and 10 p.m. when people come home from work and light their fires. Consequently, the Government vowed to implement a blanket ban on smoky coal use for the entire country but this has not come to pass. The Environmental Protection Agency has repeatedly highlighted that air quality is significantly worse in smaller towns during the winter months because large quantities of solid fuel are being burned. Ireland was required to consult with the European Commission to give effect to the ban to ensure the measures are compatible with EU legislation but this has not happened nationally.

A ban on the burning, marketing, sale and distribution of bituminous coal, smoky coal extends over a wide area including Wexford town, Ardcavan and Castlebridge but people have been travelling just outside these areas, buying smoky coal and returning home to burn it. Mr Cooney urged people living in these populous areas to stop this practise for their own health and for their families' health. 'We are realising more and more that people should got out and but smokeless fuels. There's a Wexford company, Stafford's in New Ross, that are selling smokeless fuels.'

He called for the smoky coal ban to be extended throughout the country.

The council's environment department has been receiving complaints from residents of Enniscorthy and New Ross about smog.

'We got one in this morning,' Mr Cooney said. 'The person said very poor air quality is an ongoing issue (in their town) and that they are very worried about it, especially for their children.'

He said environment staff investigate complaints and send them on to the Department of Environment.

Gorey municipal district have already written to the department about the problem in the town and Mr Cooney is hopeful the ban can be extended throughout the county.

Cllr Malcolm Byrne said he has been pushing the issue of a smoky coal ban for over three years. 'I have been highlighting the problem of particulates in the air that contribute to breathing difficulties. Management keeps fobbing me off about waiting for a national strategy. I'm frustrated with it. New Ross is badly affected.'

Meanwhile COPD Support Ireland is calling on people with undiagnosed COPD to see a doctor and get an official diagnosis. A free COPD Adviceline 1800 832 146 is there for anyone with COPD to speak to a respiratory nurse about a number of topics on managing and improving their condition.

Professor JJ Gilmartin, Chairperson of COPD Support Ireland, said: '500,000 people In Ireland have COPD and estimates suggest that 50 per cent of these people are undiagnosed. If you find yourself experiencing COPD symptoms like shortness of breath, persistent coughing, coughing up mucus/phlegm and wheezing, you should see a doctor who can help you investigate if you may have COPD - especially if you are over 40 years old. Being diagnosed with COPD will allow you to get in control of your condition and avail of all our COPD services which includes the COPD and Asthma Adviceline.'

New Ross Standard