Call for action to protect town’s citizens
CALLS have been made for an “action plan” to protect the people of Ennis after recent statistics showed air pollution levels 12 times higher than safe limits.
Environmental Protection Agency statistics show the county capital suffering huge air pollution despite a smoky coal ban being in place.
Councillor Johnny Flynn called for the plan, saying this “very serious issue” has not got the attention it deserves because of the focus on Covid-19.
He has also pointed out that research has shown that the impact of air pollution on people’s health can exacerbate the impact of the virus.
The councillor said more air quality monitors should be put in place that could warn people vulnerable to air pollution of any potential risks.
At the monthly meeting of the Ennis Municipal District the councillor asked for a review to be carried out into the causes of poor air quality in Ennis.
He asked that the council liaise with the relevant state agencies and academic bodies with expertise to prepare an action plan, “to protect both our environment and citizens”.
Responding to the motion, Leonore O’Neill, Senior Executive Officer, stated the Ennis Municipal District will bring it forward to the Physical Development SPC to determine the merits of undertaking a review of community/academic led air quality analysis in urban settings in Ireland and the success of any actions arising from same.
“I can advise that the Environment Section have promoted a number of awareness campaigns on “smoky coal” in recent years across all our social media outlets and in print,” said Ms O’Neill.
“Under the Air Pollution Act (Marketing, Sale, Distribution and Burning of Specified Fuels) Regulations 2012, the Environment Section has taken appropriate enforcement action on a number of retailers/distributers and the public in relation to breaches of the said regulations.”
The councillor acknowledged the work that has been done by the local authority since the smoky coal ban was put in place more than ten years ago.
However, he said poor air quality continues to be a major issue in the town during cold weather and he said that it is an issue of public health as well as an environmental one.
He stated that the World Health Organisation considers coal air pollution to be “the most risky environmental threat to human health”.
According to WHO the average safe levels of fine particular matter (PM), which are associated with burning of smoky solid fuel measured at EPA monitors over a 24 hour period are 10mg per metre.
He said, “In Ennis we are regularly 12 times higher than the safety level which is an indicator that the burning of wet wood, turf and smoky fuels is going on in Ennis.
“This is a very serious issue. Somewhere between 1,300 and 1,500 people a year die from air pollution in urban settings.
“Royal College of Surgeon research last year proved that during times of air pollution in Dublin and Cork this led to an increase in admissions for strokes.
“The HSE carried out research in cities and found that within two days of air pollution, at levels that we have seen here in Ennis, there is an increase in admissions for stroke, heart conditions and asthma related illnesses.
“Ennis town, because of our geography where we are down in a hole, and because we have had unusual weather conditions recently where it has still been cold, the pollution is staying in our town for two to three days.
“We have to look at at risk groups, including young people and those with respiratory conditions,” he said, pointing out that Ennis as a major town does not have a 24-hour A&E.
Councillor Flynn urged the council to invite John Sodeau , professor emeritus of chemistry at University College Cork and member of the Centre for Research into Atmospheric Chemistry ( CRAC) to speak to the council as well as representatives from the EPA.
He asked that consideration be given to putting additional air quality monitors in place in Ennis and outlined that the EPA monitor costs an average of €20,000 to maintain, but there are less expensive options.
“This could be put in to give real time forecasting so people who are at risk know they shouldn’t be out walking in the evening, and it would prevent them having to go to the emergency unit which is already overloaded.”
He concluded, “Ennis is probably one of eight or nine towns in the country that are very badly affected by this risk and I believe it is a public health issue.
“What is disturbing is because of Covid-19 this issue did not get the attention it should have, though international research is now showing that areas with very poor quality air can lead to lung and heart conditions which exacerbates the impact of Covid-19.
“People in our district are vulnerable and it’s impact is much higher than other areas of the country.”
Councillor Clare Colleran Molloy, who sits on the Physical Development SPC, stated she would be glad to push the issue.
She revealed that when she has sought to buy smokeless fuel in the past she was asked by a fuel merchant “are you sure?”