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Pollution causes around 725 deaths in Dublin each year, with 144 linked to diesel emissions, study finds

The EPA study based its findings on an analysis of the level of particulate matter (PM2.5) found in the capital.

Image: Shutterstock/Bruno Negri

POLLUTION FROM FINE airborne particles is responsible for around 725 deaths in Dublin annually, according to new research carried out for the State’s environmental watchdog.

The study published by the Environmental Protection Agency estimates that the number of expected deaths in the city from pollution from diesel vehicles alone could be up to 144 per annum.

It based its findings on an analysis of the level of particulate matter (PM2.5) – aerosol particles which can affect the heart and lungs – found in the capital.

Most of the deaths will result from either cardiopulmonary disease or lung cancer.

Researchers from Trinity College Dublin also found PM2.5 levels at a city-centre location consistently exceeded safety limits recommended by the EU and World Health Organisation.

Although the burning of solid fuel in homes is still the biggest contributor to pollution in Dublin, the TCD study sought to assess the role played by diesel vehicles in pollution levels in the city.

It noted that the number of diesel vehicles in Ireland has been growing since 2008 with more than 70% of new cars sold in 2015 and 2016 being diesel models compared to the EU average of 50%.

  • Read more here on how you can support a major Noteworthy project to find out who is lobbying against the ramp-up in e-cars in Ireland.

Researchers monitored PM2.5 levels at two locations in Dublin over 12 months.

The safety limit set by the EU for PM2.5 is an average value of 25 micrograms per cubic metre (ɥg/m³) over a 12-month period, while the WHO had set an annual mean guideline value of 10ɥg/m³.

A site on Pearse Street in the city centre consistently exceeded recommended limits with an average concentration of 36.9ɥg/m³.

The other site in a residential area of Phibsboro had an average concentration of 8.1ɥg/m³.

The measurements from the Phibsboro site were also in line with readings from four EPA monitoring stations in Dublin and four other stations operated by Transport Infrastructure Ireland.

However, the report said the differences between the pollution levels recorded in Pearse Street and all other monitoring stations gave rise to concerns that it may not be representative of the general urban air quality in Dublin.

An additional monitoring station installed at Pearse Street over a shorter recorded concentrations of up to 28.5ɥg/m³ but averaging 11.2ɥg/m³.

Analysis of samples of PM2.5 taken from the two sites using a new technique allowed researchers to identify a total of 34 different chemicals.

It enabled them to establish that solid fuel burning contributed most to pollution at both sites, accounting for 46% to 50% of all PM2.5 samples.

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Diesel vehicle emissions were the second largest contributor at the Pearse Street site accounting for 22% of the total but only 10% at the Phibsboro location.

The report found road dust was also a significant source of PM2.5 in Dublin and was shown to contain a number of toxic metals including cadmium, molybdenum, selenium and arsenic

“Considering the major pressures on the environment at both study locations, a reduction in emissions from solid fuel stands to make the largest contribution to human health protection in Dublin at present,” the report stated.

However, it claimed reductions in the number of diesel vehicles would impact on diesel exhaust emissions and road dust levels.

The report recommended measures to address travel demand as well as emission rates and fuel type.

It estimated the impact of all PM2.5 could result in 25 disability-adjusted life years which measures the total number of years lost to a combination of illness, disability and premature death, while the impact of PM2.5 from diesel vehicles alone was just over 5 years.

The study comes just after the Minister for the Environment, Climate and Communications, Eamon Ryan, announced a public consultation on his plans to introduce stricter controls on the burning of all solid fuels nationwide.

About the author:

Seán McCárthaigh

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