By Paul Carton 

Pearse Street’s air is four and a half times more toxic to breathe in than Phibsboro’s on the northside, a Trinity College study has found.

This toxicity is due to particulate matter (PM) that TCD researchers assume, is being pushed out, majoritively, by diesel engines. In terms of traffic and construction work, Pearse Street would be the busier one, but are inhabitants of Pearse Street and its surrounding areas aware that what they are breathing in is four times more than what the World Health Organisation consider a recommended limit?

The study carried out by TCD, is entitled ‘Particulate from Diesel Vehicles: Emission and Exposure in Ireland’. The study is using locations on Pearse St and Phibsboro to monitor the levels of PM 2.5 which is emitted from diesel engines. The 2.5 relates to the size of the particles in microns that are collected on to filters for analysis.

This size is of concern to the EPA who are funding the study due to its ability to pass through the nose without being filtered and penetrate down into the lungs. The EPA/EU limits for PM 2.5 is 20 μg/m3 and the petri dishes collected at Pearse St showed levels which were twice that.

Leading the research at Trinity is Dr. Maebh Gallagher, who told NewsFour that these filters set up in Pearse St and Phibsboro are set to absorb at an average breathing rate and that the study is also collecting information from population sub-groups in these areas on their exposure to this size of PM, but these results are not yet published.

Why the concern over PM 2.5 all of a sudden? Well, it seems that Dublin has been receiving good quality reports from the EU for some time now, but reports coming from respected health organisations are saying our limits for PM 2.5 are too high and also that we have far too many diesel vehicles on our roads.

A massive increase in the amount of diesel vehicles in recent years is due to a previous Fianna Fail-Green Party Government initiative to meet EU targets on CO2. They considered the ‘greener’ fuel would be diesel and reduced VRT and motor tax on diesel vehicles to encourage people to buy them.

However, it seems that the present government is going to back-track on that taxation and bring diesel back up to the same rates as petrol. As a consequence of the previous misguided move, petrol car sales fell by 42pc in the space of two years.

There is also the issue of Dieselgate, which saw Volkswagen plead guilty, in the US only, for installing a ‘defeat device’ software across their brands of diesel cars, which include the Seat, Skoda and Audi cars too (BMW and Mercedes were also implicated.) This software was created to know when the engine was being tested specifically for emissions and would run at a lower performance, thus giving read outs of lower nitrogen oxide levels than it would when actually been driven on the road.

It is suspected that approximately 125,000 vehicles in Ireland are equipped with this software, but VW have denied such claims. At present, individual cases are being brought against VW here, beginning in the district courts in Castlebar, Co Mayo but VW are requesting these cases be played out in Dublin, where the Volkswagen registered office is located.

While this is being played out in the courts here and across Europe, this government in the meantime is bringing the diesel engine tax back up to petrol engine levels which is a great way for the exchequer to recoup a large amount of money quickly. There are calls for a diesel car scrappage scheme to be put in place to appease, no doubt, many irate diesel drivers.

Whether the move to bring diesel vehicles up to normal rates is money or health motivated is anyone’s guess, but the reports published by respected health organizations does validate the move. The World Health Organization has labelled diesel as carcinogenic, and a recently published European Environment Agency report on air quality in Europe,  assigned approximately 1,500 deaths in Ireland due to PM10 and 2.5.

Studies carried out and referenced by the Royal College of Physicians (RCP) have said that these fine particles can cross the placental barrier and potentially cause injury to the womb, which impairs lung function growth in children and increases the decline rate of lung function in ageing.

The RCP do say, however, that reducing your exposure to these pollutants can reverse the process. So, one would ask, if and when the government does begin to collect the extra money from diesel engines, will this be put into areas like Pearse St to mitigate the harmful effects of PM 2.5?

The EPA do have a sensor in Ringsend on Sean Moore Road, which at the time of writing, states the air quality is good( but it must be noted that this sensor does not pick up pm 2.5), but there is no sensor in Pearse Street, bar the one installed for the purpose of this study. Perhaps the decision makers reading this article might consider the health of the residents on Pearse St and surrounding areas and provide for sensors to be installed in homes in this heavily congested area, while the complete ban of diesel from our roads begins.

When the diesel cars are removed from our roads, the electric car grid, although far more environmental friendly, comes at a cost, to all of us. When the ESB set up the electric car-charge grid, which now has 900 charge points across the country, they allowed electric car users to charge up their car for free but then they added an extra charge on to all ESB customers’ bills in lieu.

Now it looks like that freebie and that surplus charge will go and the grid will be up for auction. Whoever takes control of this grid will be in the driving seat with the fuel source of the future but obstacles like car parking spaces for charge points and creating incentives to buy electric vehicles lie ahead.