John Sodeau

Air pollution and climate change expert and researcher.

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Air emissions from farming might kill off coal and diesel burning in Ireland

When three planets align in our solar system it is called a syzygy. When three important air pollution issues align in one week then it is a synergy that might have far-reaching consequences for Irish air quality.

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Three stories about air pollution have made the news in the last week. They might at first sight appear to be unrelated but, in our atmosphere, they are actually closely connected.

The first news article resulted from a publication in Nature showing that more than 3 million people a year are killed prematurely by outdoor air pollution, that is more than Malaria and HIV/AIDS combined. Atmospheric scientists were unsurprised at this because it is well known that burning coal, wood and peat as fuels in open fires at home releases small solid particles (known generally as soot or black carbon) that can enter our lungs leading to severe health effects on asthmatics and others

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Will the drop in world milk prices help to save the planet?

On 10th September the Irish Government agreed to take in 4000 refugees many of whom are leaving their homes as a result of the Syrian conflict. This number will be dwarfed by the possible level of environmental refugees predicted to be on the move later in the century because of global warming. That is, 150 million or more! How would Ireland cope with its share of that number?

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The release of the Green House Gases (GHG), carbon dioxide (CO2), methane (CH4) and nitrous oxide (N2O) into the environment leads to global warming. There is no argument about this fact. The effect for CO2 was predicted as far back as 1896.

The presence of GHG in our atmosphere causes an effect on planet Earth that is just like the one caused by the panes of glass we use to build our garden greenhouses to help grow delicate plants. That is they let the sun’s visible light through to hit the ground or the

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Playing and ploughing with cold fire

Kfm in Kildare phoned me the other day to talk about the warning notices that Irish Water had just issued many households with in the Dublin area regarding lead piping. It got me thinking because at the same time a potentially related environmental problem was unfolding at the Killarney Lakes where I was on holiday.

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In mid-August the public was warned not to drink from, fish or paddle in Lough Leane, which is the biggest of the Killarney lakes, after algal scum made up of blue-green cyanobacteria and other phytoplankton was observed there at a number of locations. The calm, warm weather conditions were suggested to be a reason for the problem but the root cause is most likely to be related to a build-up of phosphate nutrients from natural sources, detergents, farm effluent and sewage. They are, after all, the same reasons for the same problems seen there in the 1980s and the 1990s.

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Here comes the Sun

I was asked recently by the European Photochemistry Association to write an article about my career experiences in the subject of Photochemistry. Many others also contributed with the hope being to attract a whole new generation into the field. All I can say is that I have had a blast.

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An article with a title like the above will go one of two ways: the “solar energy materials” route or the “our atmosphere” route. (It could, of course, go by both if it is about “understanding photosynthesis”). Photochemistry obviously is the foundation for all three pathways but where the road goes very much depends on where the student starts walking. My lifelong interest in “Photochemistry and Photophysics” began while still an undergraduate at the University of Southampton (I won’t embarrass the person who sparked it all for me!) But my real journey started when, as a Postdoctoral Fellow at the

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Biting the Lead Bullet

The element lead has had an important relationship with air pollution from use of the petrol additive called tetraethyl lead as an “anti-knock” agent. That issue has long since gone away but lead in our environment has not as clear from the recent warnings about using lead piping for water supply in some homes in Ireland

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In 2014 Irish Water announced that up to 140,000 of their customers are drawing their household supplies through lead pipes, and that it would take 10 years and up to €300m to replace them. This estimate of affected households rose in June 2015 to 200,000 as a result of their national metering programme. For homeowners the majority of individual households will have to foot the bills for replacement with modern materials like PVC pipes leading to costs that might reach or exceed about €3,000.
The Government response was to set up a means-tested grant scheme that would

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Congestion Charges for Cork City Traffic?

For a minute I was fooled by the Cork 96FM April Fool on its listeners. But then I thought: “Impossible”. Then I thought: “Maybe not a totally crazy idea”.

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A local radio station in Cork pranked it’s listeners this April Fools Day by telling them of a newly proposed congestion charge for drivers in Cork City. The stations’s phone lines lit up as did those of Cork City Hall. There are no reports of any caller supporting the initiative. In fact tweets like: “I am rolling around the floor laughing- congestion charge who do we think we are- there are 3 streets in Cork City” and “Seriously just shut the city down now - we charge airlines like we’re Heathrow and now we think we’re Paris” showed some of the depth of feeling at the possibility of a charge.
But is the prank such a bad idea? Zurich and Copenhagen have banned diesel powered vehicles from their streets. Paris is considering

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Using a diesel fueled vehicle is not good for our health

I used to walk to school in London when I was a boy. I can still remember the red buses belching out clouds of black smoke while I was ambling along the pavement. Little did I think that many years later I would be doing research into air pollution as my day-job.

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“Outlaw Diesel to cut Killer Fumes” ran the headline in the Irish Star on March 18th 2015. Well it wasn’t quoting me but I do have some strong opinions about the use of diesel in our buses, trucks and cars at this time. Why?

Diesel is not good for the health just as burning any sort of fossil fuel like coal, wood, peat and petrol is not good for the health and often the combustion process involved has climate change impacts. The health impacts are numerous and the World Health Organization (WHO) has recently classified air pollution in general and diesel (but not petrol) as a Group 1 carcinogen, that is like cigarette smoke

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Fuel for thought

The CRACLab research team is currently in Killarney monitoring the smoke pollution mainly caused by domestic solid fuel heating. Check back to the crac.ucc.ie website regularly to see the latest results.

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Energy and the Environment

Energy and environment go together like tea and toast or peaches and cream. The difference is that with the food pairings it is possible to have one without the other. But our needs for energy (normally meaning burning fuel of some sort) and the subsequent effect on our environment (particularly air quality both indoors and outdoors) are much more linked together. They are like two dancers caught up in an eternal waltz.

Humans first exploited the properties of Fire as a heating, cooking and lighting source about one million or more years ago. At a later point the campfire was brought inside their caves and self-build huts where the accepted arrangement

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WHO cares about Irish air?

Here in the CRACLab at UCC we have done a great deal of work into air pollution associated with particulates both chemical and biological. All I can say is that laboratory work is a walk in the park compared to mounting campaigns in actual parks. But no matter the trials and tribulations…. it’s fun!
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Is the quality of the air that we breathe in Ireland as good as we seem to think it is? The answer is no from looking at the recent air quality report for 2013 published by the EPA. It gives a stark warning about the levels of small particulate matter that are produced by the combustion of solid fuels in Irish homes because their levels exceed (by a considerable margin) those that have been newly recommended by the World Health Organization (WHO).

Unfortunately it is not just a question of changing our habit of burning coal (smoky and otherwise) to more sustainable energy sources like

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Taking the Ozone

Stratospheric ozone depletion first hit the headlines in 1974. Twenty years later Rowland, Molina and Crutzen won a Nobel Prize for the discovery. Forty years later it appears that ozone depletion may have been arrested or even reversed. But 1992 is the year that I remember the most because it was when I performed a Karaoke version of “La Bamba” in Waterville, County Kerry with one of those three Nobel )Prize winners.
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Swimming pools are often treated these days using low levels of ozone to kill bacteria. However in 19th century Victorian England many quack doctors used “ozone therapy” to treat their “patients”. They claimed to be able to cure a long list of ailments including asthma, mumps and varicose veins with their electrical generators and applicators. At the time they termed ozone as “activated oxygen” and because it was known that oxygen itself was “positively necessary to the

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