Moves to pinpoint where smoky coal is being used

THE Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is introducing additional measures to monitor air quality in Letterkenny amid a spike in pollution levels, the Donegal News has learned.
EPA staff met with Donegal County Council last week and began installing diffusion tubes at various locations around the town in a bid to pinpoint areas where there are high levels of sulphur dioxide and fine particulate matter which comes from the domestic burning of solid fuels, in particular smoky coal.
Letterkenny is under a smoky coal ban but despite this there has been significant increases in pollutants in recent weeks.
Graphs published by the EPA from Letterkenny’s monitoring station show that levels of fine particulate matter were five times higher than the limit set out by the EU for a 24-hour period. Levels of the pollutant PM10 soared to 282 micrograms per cubic metre on November 7, way above the 50 micrograms per cubic metre limit. Similarly levels of the pollutant PM2.5 reached 271 micrograms per cubic metre, ten times the EU yearly limit.
Sulphur dioxide levels were also way up on that date and reached almost double the EU limit for a 24-hour period.
Speaking to the Donegal News, Dermot Burke, Air Quality Specialist with the EPA said the surge in pollution levels is concerning especially for people with asthma and other respiratory and cardiovascular conditions.
“Poor air quality leads to 1,300 deaths per year so it is quite significant,” said Mr Burke.
“High levels of sulphur dioxide and fine particulate matter both indicate the residential burning of solid fuels. With Donegal County Council we are trying to pinpoint an area by putting up multiple tubes in Letterkenny to see if there are certain parts that have higher levels. The Council can then concentrate their efforts on educating people in that area.”

The diffusion tubes are similar to vials and are hung up in certain areas. They are low tech and are a very cost effective way of establishing if there is a pollution problem in an area.

Householders are obliged to comply with the smoky coal ban and coal retailers and coal merchants are also not permitted to market, sell or distribute smoky coal inside the ban area. Anyone within the coal sector found to be in breach of the legislation could face a fine of up to €1,000. The EPA has also commenced work on a new 3-year EU part funded project called LIFE Emerald – “Emissions Modelling and Forecasting of Air in Ireland”. The project proposes to greatly improve publicly available air quality information and raise awareness around the topic of Irish air quality.

Donegal currently has three monitoring stations – Letterkenny and Malin Head, operated by the EPA and the Buncrana station operated by the Council.
Mr Burke said the project will give the public real time maps providing air quality updates every hour and you will be able to zoom into your own part of the county.
A computer model will be used to map areas of the county not covered by monitoring stations. This data will act as a tool for the Council to determine where air quality needs improvement.

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