Photo by Zuzia Whelan

Eugene Fitzgerald spent a few years in Foxrock, but he’s a Ringsend man – born and raised.

When he moved back to the neighbourhood about five years ago, he said he couldn’t believe the traffic from the new plants in Poolbeg.

Years back, Ringsend was mostly home to dockers and those who worked in old factories, like the Irish Glass Bottle Company, he says. Now, “what we have is big industries down on the Poolbeg Peninsula that no one seems to be monitoring,” he says.

Fitzgerald is part of the Ringsend Environmental Health Group, and he says they’ve contacted the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) about monitoring the air in the area.

“They say they only monitor inside the plant,” he says, referring to the large waste-to-energy plant near the water.

The group asked Dublin City Council too, he said. “They said it’s not their job, it’s the EPA’s job. Between the two of them, I don’t think anyone is actually monitoring the air in the Ringsend-Irishtown area.”

An EPA spokesperson said it is responsible, that real-time data is available on their website – and that the agency is “currently working on improving further its provision of open data”.

All residents want to know is that it’s being monitored properly, says Fitzgerald.

Keeping Count

Last week, John Kelly, who is also in the Ringsend Environmental Health Group, gave a presentation to members on the council’s environment committee about residents’ worries.

Who monitors the ambient air quality – the concentration of pollutants in the air – in Ringsend? Where might potential new monitoring sites be? Would the readings be publicly available?

“There’s a small, ineffective station on Sean Moore Road,” says Kelly. But at the moment, it doesn’t measure a pollutant called particulate matter (PM) 2.5, which he believes is a vital gap.

Kelly used to work in combustion analysis for Bord Gáis, and says he knows a little about emissions.

PM 2.5 is atmospheric particular matter that is so small that it is easily ingested by humans and animals through inhalation, Green Party Councillor Clair Byrne said by email.

“They remain in the atmosphere for a long time, and are also associated with combustion engine emissions. They are associated with asthma, respiratory problems and heart [and] lung disease,” she said.

Byrne put forward a motion to the environment committee in March to address the concerns of Ringsend residents, and she did it again in April, when Kelly spoke there.

How Many?

The monitoring station on Sean Moore Road is part of the national network of ambient-air-quality monitors managed by the EPA, according to a spokesperson for the body, by email.

The Ringsend monitor was installed by the EPA and the council and measures the pollutants PM 10, sulphur dioxide, and nitrogen dioxide.

The spokesperson didn’t directly address residents’ concerns as to whether there are enough monitors.

“Along with the other ambient air quality monitoring stations in Dublin the station is representative of the wider air quality within Zone A (Dublin),” said the spokesperson.

Byrne doesn’t think there are enough monitors. “We need to increase the number and review the locations of monitoring sites in the city, particularly as the city grows,” she says. 

“The residents contacted me a few months ago as they have genuine concerns about the air quality assessments that are being carried out in the area, and how they may not be sufficient to account for the activity and associated traffic congestion,” said Byrne.

From about 7:30am to 10am, traffic over the East Link is bumper to bumper, says Fitzgerald, who lives on Pigeon House Road – which runs alongside the East Link, and separated from it by a low wall.

“We’ve got a lot of houses built along this road, and the air pollution needs to be covered by the EPA. To me, that’s the body that’s a safeguard for the area,” he says.

“I never open my windows. Never. I couldn’t afford to let that pollutant into me. Where I live, I can smell the exhaust from the lorries when they’re stopped,” says Fitzgerald.

He says the Ringsend group is trying to get health checks for some who live in the area, with a plan to recheck them in five years, “to see if there’s any difference in our lungs; is pollution affecting them?”

Picking up Particles

Between the EPA and the council, there’s a good level of monitoring in Dublin compared to the rest of the country, says Professor Patrick Goodman, who lectures in environmental and medical physics and DIT.

“To my mind, the Dublin area is reasonably well covered. That said, more monitors? Great,” he says. The EU set guidelines on how to place monitors and Dublin complies with these.

PM 10 refers to the size of the particle, says Goodman. “Anything smaller gets into the bloodstream,” he says. For example, PM 2.5.

PM 10 includes PM 2.5, he says, so the reading is not necessarily just PM 10, and it can be any size up to 10 – not just 2.5.

Does this lead to confusion? If the two sizes of particles affect the body differently, yet monitors lump them all together in readings?

Potentially yes, says Goodman. “But if you measure the two, you’re doubling the cost, and the workload.”

It would be great to measure 2.5 everywhere, he says. “The ratio can vary quite a lot,” he says, so there’s no way of knowing how much of a PM 10 reading is PM 2.5.

At the moment, the nearest monitoring station to Ringsend for monitoring PM 2.5 is in Rathmines.

“Health studies show that the smaller the particle, the more important it is to monitor. PM 2.5 is important from a health perspective […], and might see a closer linkage with health data,” says Goodman. “But there’s a mix in the air, and it’s hard to separate them out and say which are causing health problems.”

According to the spokesperson for the EPA, it is hoping to replace the current monitor in Ringsend with “an analyser capable of monitoring for PM 10 and PM 2.5 simultaneously” before the end of June.

The impact of the air emissions on the local population was considered in detail as part of the planning process, says the spokesperson.

It’s an issue on the EPA’s radar, says Goodman. “The more monitoring one can do the better, and over the long term. But compared to Dublin in the 1980s, it’s clean.”

Zuzia Whelan is a city reporter for Dublin Inquirer.

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *