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The Effect of Traffic on our Air Quality

Updated: Apr 23, 2020

One of my favourite innovations in Irish schools over the last few years has been the Globe program, brought to Ireland by an Taisce.

It's a huge programme which in their own words, links participants to 'investigations about the atmosphere, biosphere, hydrosphere, and soil/pedospheres. GLOBE connects students, teachers, scientists, and citizens from different parts of the world to conduct real, hands-on science about their local environment and to put this in a global perspective.'

My own involvement has been low key. I've set up a weather monitoring station in the school where we take (or took) daily readings for the noon-time pressure and temperature, as well as a 24 hour max and min temperature. It may seem mundane but my hope is that it will slowly play a role in making students (and myself) feel more connected to the weather and climate, and indirectly help in the fight against climate change. I've been really pleased over the last two years with the interest and enthusiasm coming from TY students*.

Also this year we were involved in an air quality campaign run by participating schools all around the country. Thankfully we got it completed before the shutdown, and got results back just before Easter from the labs. I've spent a few idle minutes just now picking a few results from that campaign and graphing them. Because who doesn't like a good graph?

The monitors were set up for a 3 week period in spring. We all checked different areas of the school. These results are for a reading taken 'near a busy road' - which will obviously mean different things to different people but still seems like a good way of comparing like-for-like measurements around the country. And the conclusion? In a way some of it was optimistic. Only one reading taken over that period was at a dangerous level, and many were at a good or even 'very good' level. But nonetheless there is a clear trend when you look at the graph above: those of us living in urban environments are exposed to the dangers of NO2 in the atmosphere, and the bigger the town we live in, the worse the exposure.

I didn't have enough info to dig down into comparisons between towns of the same general size, so instead I averaged the results within each town-size category and came up with this.

Clearly, we have a problem with air quality in urban areas in Ireland. .

And its not exactly good news, but I wouldn't have felt much awareness of this if it wasn't for GLOBE. And nor would the students who worked on it with me.

Anybody interested in GLOBE:

*the fact that participation involved missing large chunks of class time may have played a role in their enthusiasm. But my philosophy on these matters is : 'whatever it takes....'

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