Researchers taking a closer look at our exposure to persistent organic pollutants

NUI Galway study seeks to establish pathways through which people are exposed

PhD student Nina Wemken and Dr Marie Coggins with an air sampler

PhD student Nina Wemken and Dr Marie Coggins with an air sampler


Persistent organic pollutants do pretty much what they say on the tin – these chemicals hang around in the environment for a long time and can build up in biological systems, causing potential health and environmental problems. Many POPs are now banned or restricted and human exposure in Ireland is thought to be low, but a new EPA-funded study called Elevate is taking a closer look at how we might be exposed to such pollutants.

“We are particularly interested in brominated fire retardants, which have been used to flameproof electrical and electronic equipment, textiles and other goods and perfluorooctane sulfonate (PFOS), which would have been used in stain and water repellants and in firefighting foams,” explains Elevate researcher Dr Marie Coggins in the school of physics at NUI Galway. “Ireland has signed up to a treaty called the Stockholm Convention, which looks to restrict or eliminate the use of POPs, but some of these chemicals may still be in older appliances and goods.”

The study, which is being run in collaboration with the University of Birmingham, wants to establish the potential pathways through which people are currently exposed to POPs in the environment and is taking air, dust and water samples from a sample of homes, cars, schools and offices in Galway, Dublin and Limerick.

“We expect that the levels we find will be low, and we will compare the levels we find in our study sites to existing estimates of dietary exposure for Ireland to identify the relative importance of different exposure pathways to the Irish population,” says Coggins. The Elevate study has already had a large response from members of the public, but Coggins is still keen to engage more sites, particularly primary schools in Galway, Dublin and Limerick.

“It’s very easy to take part, there is no extra work and it doesn’t interfere with day-to-day activities,” she says. “It just involves someone from our team putting in small air samplers that sit there for 60 days, and we also collect a dust sample with a vacuum cleaner and in houses and offices we take a water sample too. Then there is a short questionnaire to be filled out.”

Hamilton walk

Maynooth UniversityWilliam Rowan Hamilton

The walking route is about three miles long, starting at Dunsink Observatory and finishing at Broombridge train station in Cabra. Contact Dr Fiacre Ó Cairbre in Maynooth University at 01-708 3763 to book a place on the Hamilton walk, which is part of Maths Week Ireland. See the schedule of events for Maths Week at