Cork history: the city's ongoing battle with smog 

Cork history: the city's ongoing battle with smog 
A busy docklands scene in winter 1934 showing smog in the city.

EARLIER this week, it was reported that air quality in Cork city is currently one of the worst in Europe.

PurpleAir, a real-time air quality monitoring website indicated that air quality near CIT, UCC and Ballinlough were particularly woeful. 

A trawl through our archives indicates that smog has been a long-standing issue in Cork over the years, particularly coming to a head in the 1980s. 

Clontarf Bridge in January 1934 shrouded in smog.
Clontarf Bridge in January 1934 shrouded in smog.

In December 1987, the corporation moved to allay concerns over winter smoke pollution in the city.

On November 27 and 28 a number of stations in the Cork suburbs recorded smoke pollution levels in excess of the EEC limits. 

Under the then directives on smoke pollution, the ceiling was 250 microgrammes per cubic metre and some of the excessive readings taken in Cork that year indicated pollution levels of 300. 

A spokesman for the corporation stressed that on no occasion was the upper mandatory limit of 350 breached.

A Garda attempts to direct traffic in heavy smog at Singer's Corner, Cork 1934. 
A Garda attempts to direct traffic in heavy smog at Singer's Corner, Cork 1934. 

He continued to add that the high smoke pollution levels were most probably caused by domestic coal fires and were no cause for concern, advising the public to burn "smokeless fuels during foggy conditions". 

In December 1989 high pressure weather conditions trapped the smog, causing major issues in Dublin and Cork and people with respiratory diseases were advised to remain indoors.

In the 1990s, the issue of smog in the city was highlighted on a frequent basis.

View of Cork city centre from Shandon in February 1932 showing a city covered in a blanket of smog. 
View of Cork city centre from Shandon in February 1932 showing a city covered in a blanket of smog. 

Dublin in 1990 had introduced a ban on smoky coal, but Cork was not quick to follow suit as the corporation claimed that smoke levels were not nearly as high as the levels in the capital.

Cork smog blackspots at the time included high residential areas such as Blackrock and Ballyphehane.

Reports from fuel merchants in 1991, suggested incremental change was happening, however, as many Cork residents were making efforts to switch over to smokeless and low smoke alternatives.

Two years later,  smog levels were still quite high and the Environmental Protection Minister John Browne announced he was examining a number of measures to deal with the problem - including making the city the country's next smoke-free zone. 

In January 1995, this came into effect and Bord Gáis began to offer grants of up to £800 to incentivise people to switch over to natural gas fires. 

Smoke emitting from the former Irish Sugar plant in Mallow, 1953. 
Smoke emitting from the former Irish Sugar plant in Mallow, 1953. 

In the more recent past, building regulations introduced in 2014 have effectively banned open fires from being constructed in new builds.

Putting an open fire in a new house is now an incredibly expensive endeavour as the property must compensate in other ways such as by triple glazing windows and adding extra insulation to comply with eco-efficient regulations. 

Cork Distilleries chimney stack, Eason's Hill, 1961. 
Cork Distilleries chimney stack, Eason's Hill, 1961. 

Speaking to The Echo earlier this week, Professor John Wenger of UCC's Centre for Research into Atmospheric Chemistry reflected on the fact that Cork city's air quality in Europe.

"Buring coal, peat and wood in the home... it might give a warm, cosy fire on a cold night but it is very polluting.

"Cork city has a ban on smoky coal but is it being taken seriously? Peat and wood also contribute to pollution as well," he said. 

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