THE battle against air pollution has been pushed to one side amid the global pandemic but it has never been more important, an air quality expert in Cork has claimed.
Professor John Sodeau, emeritus professor of chemistry at UCC with research interests in atmospheric chemistry and aerobiology, said that air pollution becomes a key focus as schools return.
“The first week of September is a signal post in Ireland for a large increase in car traffic and then complaints about road congestion and jams,” said Mr Sodeau.
“What normally happens during this week every year is that parents’ attention moves to the Environmental Protection Agency air quality monitoring sites to see if their local area has increased NOx (nitrogen oxides).
“Then they turn their attention to the local schools to see who is idling their cars at drop off and pick up points.
“After that, complaints to principals and the media follows asking for localised school measures to prevent or limit the hours for traffic,” he added.
“And, after that campaigns begin with requests in newsletters for signage, street barriers, accessible bikeways, or park-and-stride facilities.
“Generally, there has been some success with this approach in raising awareness and subsequently lowering NOx but the efforts are scattered and depend upon committed parents and teachers.”
Mr Sodeau explained that, in the face of a global pandemic, this yearly routine has “come off its wheels”.
“Although scientists and the public do realise that air pollution can weaken our respiratory defences and that Covid-19 attacks similar organs, the fight against NOx and PM (particulate matter) has been almost forgotten in this new battleground,” he said.
“A worldwide community response has followed the virus threat."
“People now stand together with their face masks and by also using sustainable transport.
“If only they would use the same measures in ‘normal’ times to help stop PM getting into their lungs or allowing fossil fuel cars and trucks from being used to pollute to excess.”
The professor said we will cope with the pandemic but that we must learn lessons from it that can be put to use in the battle against air pollution.
“If there ever was a time for us to pressurise local councils and community activists to fight the release of air pollutants in a connected way, it is now,” he concluded.