Bonfire Night in Cork last year almost resulted in law-breaking levels of air pollution, it has been revealed.
The annual ‘Bonna Night’ celebration, which was officially cancelled this year, sees communities come together for large bonfires and events.
Cork fire services dealt with 20 fires this year despite the fact that official events organised by the city council were cancelled due to heavy rain and health and safety concerns.
In 2018, fire services in the region dealt with more than double the level of call outs.
Professor John Sodeau of the Centre for Research into Atmospheric Chemistry at UCC explained that outdoor burning of any combustible material, like wood, produces harmful particulate pollution.
“On large community evenings like Bonfire night, the problem can be multiplied by many times," he said.
“Last year was quite bad in Cork and our air monitoring station in Distillery Fields showed a close to a law-breaking exceedance for small particulates."
Professor Sodeau explained that the monitoring station was far away from many of the fires so the levels would have been much higher if the monitoring had been performed close to where the bonfires were set alight.
“Actually, the real problem is not so much wood-burning but rather tyre and used sanitary objects being thrown on the fires,” he said.
“These ‘fuels’ release very poisonous chemicals called dioxins and when this happens you get a black smoke and acrid, throat-burning sensations.
“If you ever notice that with a neighbour or a community activity then contact your local council and the EPA,” he advised.
“It is dangerous.”
While he is not in favour of banning any organised community activities that have a long-standing history and are meant to be fun, Professor Sodeau said that Bonna Night organisers need to ensure that tyres and household waste are not burnt.
“More dangerous is the harm done by smoky coal and wood and peat burning in peoples homes, as well as driving diesel cars,” he added.
“Like Oscar Wilde said ‘everything in moderation including moderation’.”
Last year more than 11,000 people attended the Bonfire Night family-friendly events, with 40 local community groups, and over 150 volunteers involved in their delivery.
The organised events have been seen as a success in changing the traditional bonfire night celebrations in Cork into a more positive occasion.
The night has often been linked with anti-social behaviour with large numbers of illegal fires taking place across the city and county, making it the busiest night of the year.
It is thought the lighting of bonfires dates back to pagan times to mark the summer solstice. June 23 is known as St John's Eve in the Christian calendar and many parts of the world celebrate the night with bonfires.
Cork is one of the few places in Ireland to celebrate bonfire night. In many other cities, including Dublin, Halloween is the night when bonfires are lit.