Schools to measure air quality in ‘citizen science’ initiative

Environmental Protection Agency will oversee the research with An Taisce

 Smoke billows from steel slags  in Chongqing Municipality, China. Photograph:  China Photos/Getty Images

Smoke billows from steel slags in Chongqing Municipality, China. Photograph: China Photos/Getty Images

 

Schools across Ireland are to monitor air quality, contribute to ongoing research and work with scientists in measuring levels of pollution in a major “citizen science” initiative.

The project will begin in a selected number of secondary and primary schools in urban and rural areas, and then be rolled out to other schools throughout the country, according to the Environmental Protection Agency, which will oversee the research with An Taisce.

It will coincide with the EPA doubling the number of its monitoring stations to 70.

EPA director general Laura Burke told the Environment Ireland conference on Thursday the project illustrated how citizens could be engaged on environmental issues, help address the impacts of climate change and contribute to the betterment of society.

Irish air quality overall is good but has deteriorated in many areas due to levels of nitrogen oxide; particulate matter, emissions from diesel engines, smoke from coals, timber and peat, as well as emissions from industry and housing, the conference heard.

Minister for Climate Action and Environment Denis Naughten said the air quality issue underlined the “here and now” impacts of climate change, and of emissions from the home.

His department had targeting vulnerable people suffering due to bad air quality in retrofitting their homes and ensuring better energy use. This had resulted in them being sick less often and being admitted to hospital less frequently.

With four people a day dying in Ireland due to poor air quality and one in five children having asthma, the Government’s Clean Air Strategy would bring about health improvements in the short term and achieve long term climate change goals, he added.

The Irish research will be part of the Globe citizen science programme which the EPA and An Taisce will introducing to Ireland. “Globe is an international science and education programme that connects students, teachers and scientists to better understand, sustain and improve [THE]Earth’s environment,” Ms Burke explained.

Since 1995, more than 29,000 schools in 117 countries have participated in Globe, generating 140 million measurements and research-quality datasets available to all. The initial focus of the programme in Ireland will be on air quality.

The EPA supported the view that if people could use spare rooms for AirBnb purposes, using spare brain power to contribute important data to citizen science was of considerable merit , Ms Burke said.

The agency was working hard to make environmental information interesting and relevant to the public, to stimulate increased engagement with the environment and “to mobilise sustainable behaviours”, she added.

“A key strategic priority in the coming years is to work with others to advance citizen science initiatives, particularly in air quality, water quality and in sustainable behaviours.”