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Air quality in Ennis over the weekend compared unfavourably to Beijing's notoriously smoggy skies

Air pollution in Ennis at weekend worse than in Beijing

AIR pollution levels in Ennis were higher than in Beijing at the weekend with the EPA’s air quality monitoring station showing a significant spike in pollutants, despite a smoky coal ban being in place in the county capital since 2011.

Fears this “very harmful” pollution will result in “significant adverse health impacts” has sparked renewed calls from a former Mayor of Ennis for the establishment of an Ennis Clean Air Strategy.

On Sunday evening at 7pm the EPA recorded a sharp rise in the levels of particulate matter associated with the burning of solid fuels, almost ten times higher than the EPA’s daily limit. Particulate matter (PM) are minute particles of dust, soot and smoke and the daily limit for PM10 is 50 ug/m3.

PM10 of 485.38ug/m3 and PM2.5 of 467.58ug/m3 was recorded in Ennis on Sunday along with sulphar dioxide measuring 67.22ug/m3. On the same day, China’s capital city experienced moderate to good levels of air pollution.

Councillor Johnny Flynn is urging Clare County Council to acknowledge the “reoccurring Ennis air pollution health hazard” and put in place an action plan including greater air quality monitoring and pollution forecasting..

He insists that while the total number of incidents in Ennis taken over a 12 month period may be small or within guidelines “each high air pollution event is an immediate hazard to the health of Ennis people particularly the young, elderly and medically compromised.”

He says, “Recent and past measurements of short term events of air pollution in Ennis has reached levels normally only seen in polluted cities such as Beijing. On occasions in the last two years the Ennis air pollution measured by the EPA for fine particulates (PM) has at been 40 times the World Health Organisation’s safe levels.”

Pointing to the health risks associated with air pollution, he outlines it is estimated 1,300 Irish people every year die prematurely due to poor air quality. “That is up to seven Irish people every two days die due to air pollution. Where do these people live? In areas of occasional very poor air quality such as Ennis and those most vulnerable are children and the elderly.”

He continues, “Ennis Town’s local geographical feature is that of low lying area, it is bowl-like with surrounding hills which at times of slack winds and low temperatures means air pollution  from burning of fossil and solid fuels and from traffic stay hanging in place in the town and suburbs, creating health hazard for all.”

The councillor also believes that the proposed nationwide smokey coal ban from 2022 “is not a silver bullet  as switching  to burning wood and peat is as bad for air quality as smoky coal.
Also when you consider the history of poor air quality in Ennis which has been a smoky coal ban district for over a decade.”

A spokesperson for Clare County Council confirmed PM10 exceeded 50 ug/m3 during cold weather on Sunday at 7pm, however the limit is only deemed to be breached if more than 35 exceedances occur during the entire year.

“The measurement of Air Quality is detailed in legislation under the “Air Quality Standards Regulations 2011” and the statutory body for assessing air quality is the Environmental Protection Agency. The EPA have an air quality monitoring station in Ennis and it measures Particulate Matter and sulphur dioxide. Particulate matter (PM) are minute particles of dust, soot and smoke etc and the daily limit for PM10 is 50 ug/m3. The unit of measurement is the ug (microgramme) and is a unit of mass equal to one millionth (1×10−6) of a gram per cubic meter. However the limit is only deemed to be breached if more than 35 exceedances occur during the entire year.

“From Met Éireann records the night of the  January 16 was very cold with little to no wind. Wind speed is a significant factor in dispersing any form of air borne pollutants. The EPA website for the same day shows a rise in PM10  concentrations above 50 ug/m3 from approximately 7pm as the air temperature dropped and residents turned on heating and solid fuel appliances. The concentration returned to below 50 ug/m3   at approximately 2am on the morning of the January 17.

“The EPA website is a very informative and easily accessible resource for people who have concerns regarding air quality and it provides up to date information in readily understood formats.”

The burning of solid fuel and in particular smokey coal is a contributing factor in air pollution, they added. “The enforcement of the prohibition of burning smokey coal in prescribed areas including Ennis is covered under the “Air pollution Act (marketing, sale, distribution and burning of specified fuels) Regulations 2012”. These regulations are enforced by Clare County Council but it is important to stress that all forms of solid fuel burning contribute to air pollution not just smokey coal.”

The spokesperson concluded, “The Minister for the Environment, Climate and Communications, Eamon Ryan, announced in September 2021 that new regulations regarding solid fuels for domestic heating will apply across the State from September 2022 onwards.

“These changes will affect householders,  retailers, or those involved in the solid fuel industry as a producer or importer but the net effect will be to help to improve air quality. However everyone has a part to play to improve air quality and in particular as we transition away from solid fuel heating systems and combustion engine transportation to more cleaner and sustainable
forms of heating and transport.”

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