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How everyday life affects air quality in your home



In 2014, the World Health Organisation released new data that attributes one in eight of total global deaths to air pollution exposure, according to NUI Galway researcher Dr Miriam Byrne.

In particular, the data revealed a stronger link between both indoor and outdoor air pollution and cardiovascular diseases such as strokes and ischaemic heart disease, as well as between air pollution and cancer.

These findings are in addition to air pollution’s role in the development of respiratory diseases, acute respiratory infections and chronic obstructive pulmonary diseases.

“While most of these deaths occur in developing countries where air pollution levels from vehicle and industrial sources are very high (cooking on open fires is also a major air pollution source in these countries), these data highlight that air pollution is the world’s largest single environmental health risk,” said Dr Byrne who lectures in the Physics Department in NUI Galway and is engaged in interdisciplinary research on indoor air pollution.

“Buildings are leaky structures as far as air pollution is concerned, so while one is indoors (and populations in developed countries spend a lot of time indoors – up to 90% of their time), it is important to realise that one is exposed to outdoor air pollution from traffic and industry sources that has leaked in, as well as to air pollution generated indoors from cooking, smoking, pets, plants, etc.,” she said.

The 2014 data released by WHO is based on more knowledge about the diseases caused by air pollution, as well as better assessment of human exposure to air pollutants through the use of improved measurements and technology, which has enabled scientists to make a more detailed analysis of the risks from a wider demographic spread.

A total of 3.3 million deaths were linked to indoor air pollution in 2012, and 2.6 million were linked to outdoor air pollution.

According to the data, 34% of those who died of indoor air pollution died of a stroke; 26% suffered from ischaemic heart disease; 22% died from Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD); 12% from acute lower respiratory infections; and 6% died of lung cancer.

The key to improving the quality of the air in our homes, according to Dr Byrne, is “making sure that there is adequate fresh air; so windows and vents should be opened where possible – and when it is sensible to do so. If you live on a busy street, it is not a good idea to open your window at the height of rush hour!”

WHO recommendations, released in November, also highlight the dangers of burning fuels like unprocessed coal and kerosene in the home, and set targets for reducing emissions of health-damaging pollutants from domestic stoves, heaters and fuel-based lamps.

“Extractor fans should be used when cooking and showering. Drying of clothes indoors should be avoided (not easy in Galway!) as this can lead to mould growth on walls,” Dr Byrne advised.

Dr Byrne’s extensive research into air pollution began with a strong interest in environmental physics during her undergraduate degree. She followed her undergrad with a Masters degree at NUI Galway, where her skills in laboratory-based aerosol studies were honed, before carrying out a PhD study at Imperial College in London.

Her PhD study aimed to discover “how radioactive particles from a nuclear accident such as Chernobyl might affect householders as these particles could leak into homes,” she explained, saying this was how she first began studying indoor air pollution.

This has led to many interesting research studies for Dr Byrne such as: investigating indoor air quality before and after energy retrofitting a house; examining the influence of pets on dust mite numbers in the home; and modelling the movement of air pollution between different rooms in the house by studying the effect an adult smoking in the living room can have on a child sleeping in an upstairs bedroom.

In fact, Dr Byrne’s current area of research involves measuring indoor air quality in retrofitted, energy-efficient homes. Her latest study involves 60 Irish homes and how human behaviour affects indoor pollution levels, and is being conducted with the help of numerous other researchers who Dr Byrne acknowledges.

“I would like to acknowledge many colleagues, especially Professor Gerry Jennings, NUI Galway, and the late Professor Tony Goddard, Imperial College, who trained me in air pollution science, and co-workers Dr Maurice Mulcahy, Dr Ann McDonagh, Dr James McGrath, Dr Marie Coggins, Aine Broderick and David Clarke, who have contributed greatly to research successes in recent years,” she says.

More about Dr Byrne’s research into indoor air pollution can be found on the Ryan Institute for Environmental, Marine and Energy Research new podcast channel which can be found on iTunes.

Connacht Tribune

Students see red over in-person exams




NUI Galway has moved this week to deny accusations that it is ‘playing Russian Roulette’ with students’ wellbeing by proceeding with in-person exams.

The Students’ Union blasted the university for its decision to forge ahead with examinations in exam halls amid sky-rocketing Covid-19 cases.

President of the SU, Róisín Nic Lochlainn, slammed college authorities for what she described as a ‘reckless attitude to students’ health and wellbeing’.

“The stubborn refusal by university management is playing Russian Roulette with the health of students and their families.

“We are talking about forcing people to attend multiple spreader-events right before they go home to their families for Christmas. This is reckless and irresponsible from university management, particularly when there is a tried and trusted alternative available,” said the student leader.

In-person exams for the vast majority of students were cancelled last year as the university remained closed throughout the most stringent Covid-19 restrictions.

However, students have been back attending lectures since September and NUIG plans to proceed with normal exams for the first time since Summer 2019 – albeit with a number of risk mitigating measures in place.

The Connacht Tribune has learned that following applications by in excess of 500 students for ‘reasonable accommodation’ – where certified conditions that increase the risk of adverse reaction to Covid infection – there will be 1,600 instances where exams will be sat in individual rooms.

It is understood that there are 16 exam venues this year – a much greater number than in previous years – and that additional cleaning measures including ‘air fogging’ will be carried out to sanitise large venues.

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Connacht Tribune

Big buy-out to trigger supermarket war



Groceries giant Tesco bared its teeth this week in Galway’s supermarket war as it announced it will take over the ten Joyce’s outlets across the county – as the expanding footprint of discount retailers in Galway continues to grow.

The British supermarket giant revealed that it is to acquire the Joyce’s chain – rebranding and redesigning the until now family-owned grocers, thus increasing its foothold in Galway by 200% – bringing its store count across city and county to 15.

This comes as Aldi is in the process of increasing its Galway workforce by 100 through the construction of stores in Mountbellew, Tuam, Athenry and on the Monivea Road in Galway City – Lidl also has a new store under construction in Knocknacarra and another on the way in Athenry.

In a statement this week, Tesco confirmed it intends to ‘welcome’ the more than 500 Joyce’s employees ‘as colleagues of Tesco Ireland’, but when contacted by the Connacht Tribune declined to comment how that might look in the restructured business.

A spokesperson for the retailer said the plans were being kept under wraps until the Competition and Consumer Protection Commission (CCPC) signed off on the acquisition.

“As this transaction is subject to CCPC approval, such details are being reviewed and it wouldn’t be appropriate to comment in further detail at this stage,” she said.

Whether the proximity of Joyce’s in Oranmore to the existing Tesco in the town would have an impact on either store could not be elaborated on, she added.

The move could spell good news for consumers though, as retailers including the multinationals as well as Dunnes and Supervalu continue to vie for top spot for market share. Suppliers could also see an increase in demand, stated Tesco this week.

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Connacht Tribune

Children forced to flee from back of burning home



The scene of the fire outside this Galway city home in Westside.

SEVEN children had to be evacuated from a house in Galway city at the weekend after two cars were set on fire in the early hours of the morning – one of them close to the front door of the house.

The incident is the latest in a series of tit-for-tat retaliations in a long-standing feud between two families going back over a number of years – Gardaí have expressed major concerns about the recklessness and dangers of the car burnings.

Two units of Galway Fire Brigade along with Gardaí were at the scene of the latest arson attack on two cars parked in the Carn Ard area of Rahoon in Galway city – one of them parked at the roadside and the other on the front driveway of a house.

The emergency services were alerted at around 6am on Sunday morning last after the cars were set alight – there were concerns for the safety of the family inside when the car on the driveway rolled forward towards the front door of the house.

Both vehicles were destroyed in the incident while the front door of the house was smoke damaged. Family members, who were inside at the time – including seven children – made their exit via the back door and back garden of their residence.

This is the fourth car burning incident over the past fortnight – all are understood to be all related to the ongoing feud between two families which also involves people from other parts of the county.

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