On 15 October, RADICAL researchers hosted a free online talk and Q&A about Cork’s air quality, as part of University College Cork’s Community Week 2021.
The panellists discussed the local sources & hazards of air pollution, how to track Cork’s air quality in real-time, and the UCC projects that are focused on better understanding and protecting our air quality.
Talk by Professor John Wenger, Atmospheric Chemist and RADICAL researcher, UCC
Panellist: Dr Stig Hellebust, Atmospheric Chemist and RADICAL researcher , UCC
Panellist: Dr Marica Cassarino, Environmental Psychologist, UCC
Panellist: Dr Dean Venebles, Atmospheric Chemist, UCC
Panellist: Dr Kevin Ryan, Executive Scientist, Cork City Council
Host: Dr Tamela Maciel, Project Manager for the RADICAL project, UCC Academy
Watch a recording of this event on the UCC ERI YouTube channel: https://youtu.be/Tc0jIeyMnFE
Selected Questions & Answers
“Do you have data for an area of the city or a commuter town that does not rely so much on solid fuel burning to show the benefits?”
Stig Hellebust: “We can see a difference, but there is nowhere in the city that would not be somewhat impacted by solid fuel burning because emissions spread over a wide area. And it only takes a small number of houses burning to have a measurable impact on a wide area.”
“Can you give some background to the WHO’s reduction in safe limits for PM2.5 and NOx? Is it based on new research?”
John Wenger: Link to Guardian article: https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2021/sep/22/who-cuts-guideline-limits-on-air-pollution-from-fossil-fuels. Quote from article: “The new guidelines are the product of five years of systematic review by dozens of scientists, considering more than 500 studies and including several rounds of peer review. The guidelines represent the level at which there is already strong evidence for harm to health.
‘We feel confident that these are really robust,’ said Jarosińska. ‘But these levels absolutely do not mean we are confident that there is no harm [at even lower levels].'”
Can you quantify the effects of different types of greenery in removing pollutants?
John Wenger: “Many people are doing research on this. Trees and moss can remove air pollutants, but in order to have a big impact, you would need to grow an urban forest, literally. Planting trees helps, but reducing emissions will have a bigger effect.”
Are there any studies showing reductions in air pollutants (PM, NOx) following the implementation of rewilding/tree planting initiatives in urban areas?
John Wenger: “Yes, but only in a very localised area, e.g. a tree lined street.”
How is the data from the sensors captured and stored; and how is its accuracy and reliability measured?
Stig Hellebust: “It is based on a correction model that looked back over several months of data from both sensors and reference grade instrumentation, which takes into account environmental parameters that can influence the measurement error. The corkairquality.ie dashboard captures the data directly from the sensors over the internet and applies the correction model to the data before it is displayed on the dashboard. It is then archived.”
Did you notice an increase in pollutants during the winter lockdown with more people working from home?
John Wenger: “The biggest change we observed was in Mar-May 2020 where there was a 20-25% reduction in both NO2 and PM2.5”
There’s an encouraging trend with low emission/clean air zones in the UK e.g. Manchester. Can you talk how you are going to bring that about in Cork?
John Wenger: “The pedestrianised zone in Cork city centre (around Oliver Plunkett Street) is like a clean air zone. I don’t think there are plans for a congestion charge, like London or some other UK cities.”
In relation to burning solid fuel for heat, are there any regulations to installing new stoves in buildings?
John Wenger: “New eco stoves from EU legislation out next year, but still heavily polluting. See this article for example: https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2021/oct/09/eco-wood-stoves-emit-pollution-hgv-ecodesign “
Find out more
To find out more about air quality in Cork and across Ireland, we’ve included a relevant few links below:
UCC Community Week:
This event was part of UCC Community Week 2021. During Community Week, staff and students across the university come together with community and public sector partners to host community focussed events and activities. The week long programme of events celebrates UCC as a civically engaged university.
This event was coordinated by the RADICAL project, which is led by UCC. RADICAL is an EU-funded research project to develop a novel type of low-cost sensor to detect atmospheric radicals, for better air quality monitoring.
Environmental Research Institute:
This event was supported by the Environmental Research Institute (ERI). ERI is a flagship UCC institute that integrates over 400 researchers from 20 University schools and departments and 6 research centres to work together to accelerate the transition to a sustainable society.
Cork City Council:
Cork City Council’s Air Quality Monitoring Programme works in partnership with the EPA’s National Ambient Air Quality Network. This network is a series of air quality monitoring stations that are located across the country. There are 4 air quality monitoring stations installed across Cork City Council’s functional area as part of the National Ambient Air Quality Network.