Expert warns of 'toxic hotspots' outside Cork schools as air pollution increases are blamed on back-to-school runs

Expert warns of 'toxic hotspots' outside Cork schools as air pollution increases are blamed on back-to-school runs
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INCREASED levels of air pollution have been recorded following the return of schools this week in Cork, fuelling calls for parents to reduce their car usage.

An air monitoring station in Cobh recorded an increase in the level of air pollution this week, coinciding with the reopening of schools in the area following the summer holidays.

UCC Chemistry Professor, John Sodeau, explained that real-time air monitoring results at some Cork locations are available from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

Professor Sodeau
Professor Sodeau

“For the eagle-eyed and as a taster, the Cobh site does show an increase in particulate matter in the region coinciding with the start of school term this last week,” he said.

“More results are needed and the measurement equipment is not always set up outside a school - although it is close by to one in Cobh - but it is a start to show parents that they should get the kids to walk or bike to school, wherever it is safe to do so,” he added.

Professor Sodeau explained that schools are often “hotspots” for toxic air pollutants emitted from car, truck and bus exhausts.

“One of the hotspots here in Ireland and throughout the world is outside schools at drop-off and pick-up times because of combustion engine idling,” he said.

Professor Sodeau added: “It is important to know that fact because many scientific articles have been published supporting the claim that children are highly at risk walking or being taken to school in cars.

“They are particularly vulnerable when the cars are at the kerb outside the school because they are not very tall and get the full force of the pollution in their faces,” he added.

“An asthmatic child is particularly at risk of developing respiratory problems, diabetes and heart problems in the future.”

Many countries are attempting to tackle the problem, including Ireland, according to Professor Sodeau.

“Some principals prevent drop-off outside schools by policing at appropriate times using signs and double yellow lines to advise parents,” he explained.

“People worried about the localised air pollution around their own schools need to get their air quality monitored.

“There are sensors available now and they might be able to show the magnitude of the problem at the site that their children are studying at,” he said.

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