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Ireland is a country located in the North Atlantic, with close proximity to Great Britain,separated by several different bodies of water such as St. Georges channel andthe Irish sea. Geographically it is an island made up mostly of low lyingmountains with a significant sized central plain. Its climate is heavilycontrolled by the Atlantic Ocean, thus giving it a climate that is free fromextremes of temperature, which does play a role in its overall level of pollution,with certain geographical traits in any given city or country around the worldsometimes helping, or contributing to worsened levels of pollution. In Ireland,the surrounding mountains or hills with flat plains or valleys can often leadto a lack of wind that causes pollution to build up in the air in certainareas, thus raising the ambient year round.
Despite the geography not being as helpful, meteorological traits work in its favor,lacking the extremes of heat often needed to generate certain photochemicalpollutants, as well as the extremes of cold that can often lead to large scaleuse of energy consumption for heating, although of note is that the temperaturecan still get considerably cold, which inevitably has an effect on pollution levels,particularly when combined with anthropogenic (human related) activities.
Looking at its pollution levels over the year of 2019, it can be seen that Ireland came inwith a PM2.5 reading of 10.60 μg/m³, putting it into the ‘good’ ratingsbracket, one that requires a very fine margin of entry, between 10 to 12 μg/m³in regards to its readings of PM2.5.
PM2.5 refers to particulate matter that is 2.5 micrometers or less in diameter, sometimesgoing considerably lower down to sizes as small as 0.001 microns or less. Dueto its incredibly small size, it presents a significant danger to human health,and as such is a major component used in the calculation of the overall qualityof air. Other pollutants used in the overall calculation are ones such as PM10,oxides of nitrogen and sulfur as well as ozone. However, due to the pertinenceof PM2.5 and its role in air pollution, it will be used mainly to discuss airpollution levels in Ireland.
Irelands PM2.5 reading of 10.60 μg/m³ is a respectable reading of air quality, puttingit in 77th place out of all countries registered worldwide, comingin just behind other ones such as Switzerland (10.89 μg/m³) and the Netherlands(10.91 μg/m³). The capital city of Ireland, Dublin, also came in with a goodPM2.5 reading of 10.6 μg/m³ over 2019, putting it in 2357th placeout of all cities ranked worldwide. So overall, Ireland does have a goodquality of air, as its ratings name suggests. However, there are stillpollutive issues that need addressing in the country, and it could take furthersteps to ensure that it gets its yearly average below the World HealthOrganizations (WHO) target goal of 10 μg/m³ or less for a cleaner quality ofair, the closer number is to 0 being the most optimal.
Ireland has numerous causes of pollution, many of which can come together and compound eachother, creating higher readings of contaminants and fine particulate matter inthe air, sometimes changing from region to region, with certain areas havingmore prominent sources of pollution than others.
One of the main ones, particularly afflicting more populated cities and busier areas wouldbe that of vehicular emissions, with the numerous cars on the road takingpeople in and out of the cities, as well as on their daily commutes putting outlarge amounts of pollution.
Besides personal cars (as well as heavy duty vehicles such as trucks, lorries andbuses, many of which run on diesel fuels as well), other sources of pollutionthat would be of importance in Ireland would be emissions from factories andother related industrial areas, with many of them also utilizing fossil fuelssuch as coal to provide their needed energy, and diesel for their heavy machinery.
This in turn releases more pollution and fine particulate matter in the air, the differenttypes of which will be discussed in following. Besides the pollution releasedfrom the burning of their fuel sources, factories can also give off pollutantsrelated to whatever material is being manufactured in the form of industrialeffluence, affecting both the air and in some cases, water supplies and theenvironment, although water contamination is less of an issue in countries suchas Ireland due to more stringent rules regarding industrial waste management.
An example could be those of any factories involved in the recycling or production ofplastic related products. They will all inevitably give out fumes that stemfrom the burning of plastic materials, although with proper containmentprotocols in place, these fumes can be reduced.
With these two being some of the main sources of pollution, other ones that crop up on theradar of air contamination in Ireland would be practices such as the burning ofpeat (accumulations of partially decayed vegetation and organic matter, usuallyunique to bogs and peatlands, in which there many of in Ireland).
Other organic matter such as wood is also used, but dried peat is used in vast quantitiesthroughout Ireland, seeing a lot of use in rural areas or houses that still usetraditional methods of heating such as home stoves or fireplaces. These are notoriousas leading sources of localized forms of PM2.5 in the air, which can affectpeople on a small scale in their homes, or on a larger scale when the smoke andparticles make their way up into the atmosphere, thus raising the yearly ambient pollution readings.
Observing the data taken over 2019, and utilizing some of the main cities in Ireland, inparticular Dublin, Cork and Waterford, it can be seen that some patterns startto emerge, regarding the levels of PM2.5 being picked up on. In fact, thispattern seemed to be universal for the whole of Ireland, with many of its worstreadings and poorest air quality coming in on the same months of the year.
Due to the aforementioned weather influences, the cold has a prominent effect on pollutionlevels in the air, with a drop in temperature correlating with the amount ofenergy being spent on the heating of homes and businesses, as well as theburning of materials such as peat, wood and coal for further heating of homes,most prominently in rural areas or smaller towns outside the major cities thatstill resort to traditional heating methods.
Looking at the numbers, there starts to be a noticeable decline in air quality towards theend of the year, with August through to October starting to show signs that thePM2.5 levels were rising, although of note is that many of the cities stillremained within the WHO's target goal of under 10 μg/m³ during these months.However, as the trend continues, November and December are when the moreprominent changes start to take place, with four cities out of all 8 registeredin Ireland going up a bracket into either the ‘good’ ratings or the ‘moderate’pollution category, with Cork showing the highest PM2.5 reading in the whole ofIreland during December at 14.3 μg/m³.
From here this decline continued into the earliest months of the year, as winter carrieson. It is at times such as these when Irelands air would be at its mostpermeated with smoke, haze and pollution, causing heightened mortality ratesthat have been reported on consistently in recent years.
In Dublin, February and March came in as the most polluted months of the entire year, withreadings of 14.4μg/m³ and 23.6μg/m³ respectively, making March the mostpolluted month of the year for the capital.
This remained true for the rest of the country, with Waterford having readings of 15.2μg/m³and 20.6μg/m³ over April, showing that April is quite consistent in itsheightened pollution readings, making it the most polluted month out of theentire year for Ireland, with February following closely behind. Other citiesthat displayed higher readings during February were Finglas with 21μg/m³,Rialto with 22.5μg/m³ and Carlow at 21.1μg/m³.
All of these readings are well up in the ‘moderate’ ratings bracket, coming in over twotimes the number of any cities yearly average. It is during months such as thisthat preventative measures become particularly important, especially for thoseat risk. The wearing of high quality particle filtering masks as well as staying up to date on hourlyor daily pollution levels via the air quality maps on the IQAir website or theAirVisual app would go a long way in helping people to stay safe from elevatedlevels of pollution, which can have a number of disastrous consequences on health.
Contrasting the previous question, as mentioned, the times that displayed the worst levelsof pollution in Ireland were in the winter months, despite an aberration in thereadings. Though February and April were by far the most polluted months in thecountry, with both of them consistently coming in with moderate ratings of airpollution, the PM2.5 levels dropped during the month of March, coming in withreadings that sat within the WHO's target goal.
Despite this abnormality in the readings, after the most polluted month of April was over,the levels of PM2.5 in the air start to decline fairly consistently, and to usethe city of Waterford as an example, after its reading of 20.6μg/m³ in April,it dropped massively to 6.7 μg/m³ in May, then down to 5.6 μg/m³ in June,before reaching its cleanest rating of 5 μg/m³ in July, a month that cameacross as the cleanest out of the entire year for many of the registered cities.Despite this, there was the unusual exception of Dublin where it actually roseback up into the moderate bracket, just scraping in with a reading of 12.1 μg/m³, contrary to every other city on record in Ireland.
However, that was an exception, and the cities of Waterford, Finglas, Roscommon and indeedevery other city in Ireland came in with its best readings during July. Thecity that had the cleanest PM2.5 number during this month was a tie betweenRoscommon and Cork, both with 4.1 μg/m³, meaning that the air would beexceptionally clean to breathe during this time and free from the manypollutants that would be plaguing the atmosphere during the earlier months. Soevidently, it is during the summer season that Ireland has its best levels of air quality.
With a vast majority of its pollution arising from vehicle emissions, factory andindustrial sites as well as the burning of organic materials, the pollutantsfound in the air would be ones that stem mainly from these sources. Someexamples of major pollutants that arise from cars would be nitrogen dioxide (NO2)and sulfur dioxide (SO2), with nitrogen dioxide being of chiefprominence, due to its high release from vehicle engines.
It is a chemical compound that can cause irritation to the lungs and throat, as well astriggering off asthma or other respiratory related conditions. It is soprominent in its release from vehicles, that high concentrations of it in theatmosphere or ground level air will often have direct correlations with highvolumes of traffic. Other oxides of nitrogen that contribute to pollutionlevels are ones such as nitric oxide (NO), particularly in the formation of ozone as well as acid rain.
With solid or organic forms of fuel being used in homes such as peat or wood, materials likeblack carbon would be released, a major component in soot that is also seenreleased from cars, factories and anywhere that has burning or combustion taking place.
Others would be polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, as well as volatile organic compounds (VOC's),some of which would include benzene, toluene, xylene and formaldehyde, all ofwhich have negative consequences on human health, and are incredibly easy torespire due to them being gases at lower temperatures, hence the volatile tagin their name. These are but a few of the main pollutants found in the air inIreland, with higher volumes being present during the more polluted months of the year.
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