covd-19 dublin city pollution

Covid 19 and Cleaner Air in Dublin City Centre

It is well document that there are widespread improvements in air quality as a result of the Covid 19 pandemic and the resulting shut down of many elements of society. This has been documented by media organizations across the globe, as well as professional bodies such as the Institute of Air Quality Management. The Irish Times has reported that ‘Improved air quality in Europe due to lockdowns to combat the coronavirus pandemic has delivered health benefits equivalent to avoiding 11,300 premature deaths’ referencing a study carried out by Helsinki-based Centre for Research on Energy and Clean Air. The same study has predicted that other avoided health impacts include 6,000 fewer new cases of asthma in children.

The fact that air quality has improved due to Covid 19 restrictions is matter of common sense. Obvious reasons for improved air quality include a massive reduction in traffic and public transport. Other reasons include a reduction in commercial and manufacturing activity due to the economic slowdown associated with Covid 19 (Plummeting oil prices is an indicator of this). Empty offices do not need to be heated by gas or oil boilers. Less manufacturing activity means reduced industrial emissions. As just one example, if there is a reduced demand for metal, refineries and smelters will not be in production as much, and the furnaces and smelting kettles in these facilities will not be emitting as much harmful particulate matter or heavy metals to ambient air. In addition to this, construction sites have not been operational which means a reduction in the emission of combustion gases from stationary construction plant such as diesel generators and mobile construction plant such as excavators, as well as a reduction in construction and demolition dust. This is particularly relevant in Dublin City Centre which was a hotbed of construction activity prior to Covid 19.

It stands to reason therefore that air quality in Dublin City Centre, Ireland’s epicentre, has improved dramatically. A preliminary review and a comparison of PM10 Air Quality data at EPA Monitoring Stations from 2019 and 2020 based in and around Dublin as shown below indicates this dramatic reduction.

 

EPA Air Monitoring StationNumber of values greater than 50 ug/m3 (Whole of 2019)Number of values greater than 50 ug/m3 (Up to April 20th 2020)
Marino40
Rathmines50
St Johns Road West50
Davitt Road151
Blanchardsown111
Ballyfermot70
Winetavern Street90

Note: The daily limit for PM10 is 50 ug/m3. The limit is deemed breached if more than 35 exceedances occur during the year. 

At the same time, the health effects of air pollution are widely known. Air pollution is a major cause of premature death and disease, and is ‘the single largest environmental health risk in Europe’ according to the European Environment Agency. Heart disease and stroke are the most common reasons for premature death attributable to air pollution, followed by lung diseases and lung cancer. The World Health Organizations concludes that Worldwide ambient air pollution accounts for:

  • 29% of all deaths and disease from lung cancer
  • 17% of all deaths and disease from acute lower respiratory infection
  • 24% of all deaths from stroke
  • 25% of all deaths and disease from ischaemic heart disease
  • 43% of all deaths and disease from chronic obstructive pulmonary disease

In Ireland, the number of premature deaths attributable to air pollution is estimated by the EPA to be at 1,510 people a year and is attributed mainly due to cardiovascular disease.

Is it possible to see significant health improvements across society due to the temporary improvement of air quality across the globe during the pandemic? It is strange suggesting that a global pandemic may actually result in health improvements, but it’d be very interesting to track the level of illnesses such as Asthma, Respiratory Infection, Lung Cancer and Stoke in the short, medium and long-term to see if there is any discernible reduction in these illnesses due to temporary Covid 19 related air quality improvements. Might it also be possible that cultural changes such as an increase in remote working for example or an increased awareness of the importance of science-based policy (I.e. in relation to Climate Change for example) contribute to a continued trend of improving air quality?

Author Richard Deeney.