Taking care of the air that we breathe

Taking care of the air that we breathe

It’s around this time of year that the chimney sweeps are busiest, and boilers should also have had their yearly service. The fires are being set and the heating is being turned on, after being a little less active over the summer. Fire Safety week has recently passed too, so if you missed out on the tips and advice that was being given, head over to www.Firesafetyweek.ie where you will find out all you need to know to be safe and cosy this winter.

All of this means that there is going to be more smoke in the air and unfortunately, even though smoky or bituminous coal has been outlawed for use in and around Sligo Town for many years now, some people persist in selling it and using it - but it is banned for good reason.  The EPA has estimated that in Ireland the premature death attributable to air pollution is around 1,200 people.  It isn’t the only cause of air pollution, but is one that we can prevent pretty easily if we choose to use cleaner fuels.  Dr Ciara McMahon, Director of the EPA’s Office of Radiation Protection & Environmental Monitoring, said the poor air quality is a health hazard and that the choices we make affect the levels of pollution in the air we breathe, which in turn affects the health of our lungs, heart and other organs.

Many people in Sligo will remember only too well the strong and pungent smell of chimney smoke from all of the many houses who once used this type of fuel before its use was restricted, but not too many would remember it too fondly.  It’s not good for anyone.  Those amongst us who may have asthma or emphysema suffer as it irritates the lungs of these most vulnerable people.  Recent studies on the impact of air quality on children have suggested that the higher levels of particulate matter (PM) associated with this type of coal can lead to developmental problems, while other research has shown that there may be a link between PM and Alzheimer’s disease.  There’s also a bit of a false economy to using it too.  While it has been suggested that it is cheaper, and burns better than smokeless fuel, any saving that you might make is going up in smoke.  It may burn brighter, but it gives out less energy than smokeless fuels.  While you’re burning it, you’re also polluting your own neighbourhood and the air that is breathed in by you, your family and your neighbours.  So if you’re putting down a fire, consider using a smokeless product.  If you become aware of someone selling smoky coal in your area, please contact the Local Authority.

Sligo County Council is retrofitting a number of houses in the town with newer, more efficient heating systems that don’t pollute the area around them, and which provide warm, comfortable and efficient homes.  All of our newly built homes are also known as Near Zero Energy Buildings (NZEB), which means that they require a lot less energy input to keep them warm.  The Sustainable Energy Authority of Ireland has lots of tips on how to make your home warmer and more efficient, and they also provide grants and supports for anyone who wants to look in to upgrading their home.  All of this information can be found on their website www.seai.ie.

In co-operation with the Environmental Protection Agency, we have also started monitoring air quality in Sligo Town and hope to start providing this information to the public on our website within the coming weeks.  In the meantime, you can see what the recent air quality results have been like by visiting: www.airquality.ie.  At present, there is one monitoring station on the Inner Relief Road, close to the train station and it is our intention to extend this initiative to cover other areas of the town in the coming months.  Pete Murtagh, Environmental Awareness Officer with Sligo County Council said “Air quality is so important for all of us.  If it’s bad, then we all suffer the consequences.  We can all do our own part in trying to make sure we keep it as clean as possible”.