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The air quality in Ennis is giving serious cause for concern. Photograph by John Kelly

‘Dangerously high’ levels of air pollution in Ennis

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AIR pollution in Ennis has been described as “dangerously high” with levels of particulate matter associated with burning solid fuels more than seven times higher than Shanghai in recent days.

Community group Better Ennis are among those voicing concerns about the “health hazard Ennis residents and visitors are exposed to”, while during one evening a UCC professor took to social media urging Ennis residents not to go outside.

Green Party Senator Roísín Garvey says, “People are afraid to go for a walk in the evening because of the quality of the air.”

Ennis Fine Gael Councillor Johnny Flynn is seeking a report on air quality in Ennis from Clare County Council to be included in the monthly management report, and is reiterating calls for an Ennis Clean Air Strategy.

“Short term poor air quality events or spikes have very significant adverse health impacts, they result in significant  spikes in hospital admissions for up to two days after such events,” he stated.

A smoky coal ban has been in place in Ennis for over a decade, and on October 31 new national regulations came into effect restricting the retail, online and commercial sale of smoky fuels, including smoky coal, turf and wet wood.

Sharp spikes in particulate matter (PM), minute particles of dust, soot and smoke, have been recorded in Ennis during the recent cold snap according to the EPA’s Air Quality Index for Health.

Clare County Council says there is a “direct correlation” in the increase in PM readings during the late evening when residents come home and put on heating and reading decreases in the morning.

The burning of solid fuels “are all a significant contributing factor in air pollution” said a spokesperson for the local authority adding that all fuel retailers have been notified of their obligations and regularly checked for compliance.

Síle Ginnane of Better Ennis is calling for a “concerted community effort” to highlight the need to stop burning and selling smoky fuel while insisting greater enforcement is needed of the smoky fuel ban. Recent statistics show pollution levels in Ennis were seven times that of notoriously polluted Chinese city Shanghai, she said.

“This isn’t the first winter that polluted air is dangerously high. Ennis is regularly recorded as having some of the worst air pollution in the country – it is consistently in the unenviable league of the top five towns with the worst polluted air.

“It is worth pointing out that not every town is monitoring their level of pollution but that in no way detracts from the health hazard Ennis residents and visitors are exposed to. The exposure of people outdoors to these levels of pollution is dangerous.”

Last week John Sodeau, Professor Emeritus of Chemistry at UCC Tweeted, “In the absence of any rapid real time information from ⁦EPA Ireland⁩ to those living in Ennis, do not go out walking running etc between 5pm and midnight.”

At 8pm on December 8 in Ennis the EPA monitoring station recorded PM2.5 at 234.11 µg/m3 and PM10 at 237.82µg/m3. The overall average for PM2.5 in Shanghai on December 8 was 31.3µg/m3 while PM10 was 52.7µg/m3.

This equates to PM2.5 levels more than seven times higher in Ennis than Shanghai on that date, with PM10 more than four and a half times higher.

“We would like to see a concerted community effort – from GPs, public health, healthcare workers, local media, local representatives, the council executive, the business community to highlight the need for people to stop selling and stop burning smokey fuel, and to increase awareness that the burning of smoky coal and wet wood is illegal as of October 31 this year.

“We need the council to enforce this ban. The impact on people’s health both inside and outside the homes is too great to ignore.”

Councillor Flynn outlined research shows between 1,180 and 1,300 Irish people a year die prematurely due to poor air quality.

“Where do these people live? In areas of poor, occasionally very poor air quality such as Ennis and those most vulnerable are children and the elderly.”

He firmly believes an Ennis Clean Air Strategy, including pollution forecasting, “would help to keep people safe and out of hospital”.

Senator Garvey is calling for more air quality monitors to be put in place in the town, believing the situation may actually be worse as traffic pollution is not factored in. She also voiced support for greater enforcement of the regulations, urging people not to buy smoky fuels.

“People think if they burn smoky coal it’s better, but it’s a myth. The calorific value of smokeless coal is higher so it gives you higher heat. People are buying cheap wet wood or wet turf, they are being sold poor quality fuel.

“They are not getting a good deal on illegal smoky fuel, they are doing themselves and the environment damage.

“People have said to me when they walk in the evening they can see the dirt in the air, older people are choosing not to go out and be physically active as a result of the air quality.

“Ennis is such a lovely town, we don’t want to become known as the town that has really bad air quality.

“It would people off coming to visit and coming into town. The fact that people are afraid to go for a walk in the evening because of the quality of the air is terrible.”

A spokesperson for the EPA told The Clare Champion, “The Air Quality Index for Health’ on www.airquality.ie has shown a poor (red) or very poor (purple) status at a number of towns across Ireland, including Ennis.

“Concentrations of fine particulate matter (PM2.5) are the air pollutant causing the index to move to a poor status. PM2.5 is typically associated with emissions from burning solid fuel.

“Information on air quality monitoring and the Air Quality Index for Health, including health advice is available on www.airquality.ie, Air Quality Index for Health | AirQuality.ie’ and tweets on @EPAAirQuality

“An overview of particulate matter including graphics and an animation is available in the recent air quality in Ireland report Monitoring & Assessment: Air Publications | Environmental Protection Agency (epa.ie)

“Actions to improve air quality, including air pollution from fine particulate matter are outlined in the what’s needed section of the report.”

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