John Sodeau

Air pollution and climate change expert and researcher.

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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 website regularly to see the latest results.


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!

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.
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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The chemical warfare agent that floated over Ireland


I did a lot of experiments using sulfur dioxide (SO2) when I worked at the University of California in the 1980s. At that time the ways in which it could be oxidised to sulfuric acid (the important acid-rain” ingredient) were not fully understood. I did not realise at the time though that I was working with the world’s first chemical warfare agent.

Iceland’s Bardarbunga volcano has been erupting since August 31st 2014. Europe looks on nervously because of memories about the cloud of abrasive ash that was emitted from the Eyjafjallajokull volcano during April and May 2010. That earlier event seems to be different from what is happening now because then much of Europe’s air space was closed for six days, stranding tens of thousands of passengers, including several of my friends and colleagues.

This time there seems to be little ash being spewed into the air; instead molten lava is...

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The Irish Government dithers while the planet burns


A leaked report in September 2014 from the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) tells us that global warming is here, likely irreversible, caused by us and probably already dangerous. It is currently in the hands of the Irish Government for comment. One of those same hands though has delayed, yet again, the introduction of the proposed Climate Change and Low Carbon Development Bill because it is not on the priority list of legislation being moved by the Coalition.

How can the Government square this stagnant position (given the importance of agriculture to the Irish economy) with the IPCC statements that climate change will worsen violent conflicts, increase refugee problems and impact on efforts to grow more food in a secure and sustainable manner?

The fact remains that we are all currently looking forward to a +4 C world by about the year 2060 with the year 2030 as a...

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The bad, the ugly and the good of Saharan dust (redux)


The idea for the CRAC SodeauBlog all came about because of this entry that I wrote for the Newstalk website earlier in the year. So this is how it all began……. and was 2014 a bumper year for Wexford strawberry growers?

The Bad and the Ugly

We all think that two of our fundamental human rights are to be able to breathe clean air and drink clean water. Nobody would argue with that. But achieving those rights for everyone across the planet is becoming increasingly difficult. Issues like climate change and pollution do impact us all and we read about problems associated with them almost every day now. The reason is that the earth’s environment is something like a bean bag: push one part in and some other unpredictable part will push out. Like a living organism we are never precisely sure about what is going to happen next with it. The reasons for this are that processes happening in our...

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Getting pollen off my chest


I get hay fever. Not as bad as some do, but irritating enough. Is that the reason I have turned most of my research activities towards the detection of airborne pollen and spores?

You may be surprised to learn that the daily pollen count you read in the newspapers or on the MetEireann website comes from collections made near Worcester (and elsewhere) in England.

In the small print under the table you will read the copyright protection words: © National Pollen and Aerobiology Research Unit. In fact this is a world famous research group that supplies the UK MetOffice with the counts for them to put into wind dispersion computer models in order to make predictions like LOW, HIGH, VERY HIGH as blanket descriptions for very large regions of both countries.

What you also may not know is the way in which the pollen are counted at present…..

From the Stone-age…

The reason why Ireland no...

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Should Ireland ban the advertising of e-cigarettes?


This issue will not go away until more reliable research is performed. Governments and Industry need to invest now.

The Minister for Health has just announced (June 2014) that Ireland will become the first European country to order a ban on branded cigarette packets. But what about e-cigarettes? In contrast to smoking we know virtually nothing about the form, nature and contents of the aerosols that expel from our mouths because of “vaping” an e-cigarette. So why is there silence on this issue?

To date there has been some restraint in advertising e-cigarettes in Ireland. It has not been like the UK where the most complained about TV ad campaign in 2013 was one in which the e-cigarette brand, VIP, featured a sultry-looking woman saying: “I want you to get it out. I want to see it. Feel it. Hold it. Put it in my mouth. I want to see how great it tastes”. Not surprisingly the...

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Taxing toxic two-strokes


This is the first in a series of occasional blogs that I intend to publish on all matters to do with air pollution and climate change. And so it begins……

Earlier this year the World Health Organization (WHO) reported that in 2012 around 7 million people died as a direct result of air pollution. That is more than the entire number currently living on the island of Ireland. The figure is more than double previous estimates and represents one in eight of the total global population. We now know for sure that airborne pollutant gases and particles represent the world’s largest single environmental health risk.

The highest contribution to the total loading of pollutants monitored in urban areas is road traffic: it comes from both exhaust emission and non-exhaust sources (like tyre- and brake-wear). But are all vehicle sources of equal concern to us?

Toxic two-strokes

If you have ever...

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