TCD group to investigate health effects in Ireland from diesel emissions

A TCD team is to investigate the health impact of diesel emissions in Ireland (Pic: TCD)

Nitrogen dioxide, or NO2 is an air pollutant generated, for the most part, by diesel engines and can irritate airways and lead to respiratory disease, especially asthma.

In the past, Irish governments have encouraged the purchase of diesel cars through tax incentives in order to help meet the country’s obligation to control carbon dioxide, or CO2, which is the most significant greenhouse gas.

However, it has become clear that nitrogen dioxide, which is released by diesel engines, is a serious hazard to public health so this policy may change.

For many years the US had strict controls on nitrogen emissions from vehicles, and the EU is now looking to follow with its own more stringent nitrogen regime.

This research will involve a team of engineers, hospital consultants and environmental scientists based at TCD, and is funded by the Environmental Protection Agency‘s Research Programme 2014 to 2020.

The researchers will investigate the associations between NO2 and health impacts as it pertain to Ireland, with particular emphasis on vulnerable groups including children, the elderly and the socio-economically disadvantaged.

The team will identify a set of characteristics for the locations in Ireland that are at most risk of experiencing high levels of NO2.

“Traffic in urban areas contributes significantly to air pollution and the impact on individuals living and working in those areas is difficult to quantify,” said Margaret O’Mahony, Professor of Civil Engineering, and the project lead.

“The EPA funding will enable the team to investigate the associations between NO2 and its impact on health and wellbeing, which is an important step forward for environmental and health research in Ireland,” Prof O’Mahony added. 

The team will also examine the HSE drug prescription database to establish much-needed baseline data linking NO2 levels with the prescription of drugs used to treat asthma and chronic obstructive airways disease.

Other databases, such as the Growing up in Ireland (GUI) and the Irish Longitudinal Study on Ageing (TILDA), subject to their availability, will be explored to investigate if relationships between prevalence of respiratory symptoms in vulnerable groups and NO2 levels exist.

Finally, the team will identify a set of effective and efficient solutions to mitigate the impact of the transport sector on NO2 levels in Ireland.