New project will assess the impacts of Nitrogen Dioxide on public health

Posted on: 25 October 2017

A team of engineers, hospital consultants and environmental scientists from Trinity is collaborating on a new project to examine the impacts of nitrogen dioxide (NO2) on health and quality of life. The research is funded by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Research Programme 2014-2020.

NO2 is primarily a pollutant generated by traffic, especially diesel engines, and breathing it can irritate the airways and aggravate respiratory diseases — particularly asthma — leading to coughing, wheezing and difficulty in breathing. Research on this topic is particularly important in the context of very significant challenges across Europe in meeting targets for the reduction of NOx emissions from the transport sector.

The Trinity team will assess how the recent findings elsewhere in relation to the associations between NO2 and health impacts pertain to Ireland, with particular emphasis on vulnerable groups including children, the elderly and the socio-economically disadvantaged.

The team will identify a set of characteristics for the locations in Ireland that are at most risk of experiencing high levels of NO2.

Professor of Civil Engineering at Trinity, Margaret O’Mahony, is the project lead. She said: “Traffic in urban areas contributes significantly to air pollution and the impact on individuals living and working in those areas is difficult to quantify. The EPA funding will enable the team to investigate the associations between NO2 and its impact on health and wellbeing, which is an important step forward for environmental and health research in Ireland.”

The team will also examine the HSE drug prescription database to establish much-needed baseline data linking NO2 levels with the prescription of drugs used to treat asthma and chronic obstructive airways disease. 

Professor in Civil Engineering at Trinity, Brian Broderick, a Principal Investigator on the project, said: "Research studies in different parts of the world have shown that air pollution can have significant health effects. We need to be able to check the extent to which this is the case in Ireland, which has its own unique environment and population characteristics.”

“This project will investigate the information available from various sources on national air quality, health and well-being to ascertain whether elevated levels of one air pollutant, nitrogen dioxide, can have a measurable impact on the incidence of respiratory illness, such as asthma. Our results will be an important guide for future action to protect environmental standards and public health."

Other databases, such as the Growing up in Ireland (GUI) and the Irish Longitudinal Study on Ageing (TILDA), subject to their availability, will be explored to investigate if relationships between prevalence of respiratory symptoms in vulnerable groups and NO2 levels exist. 

Finally, the team will identify a set of effective and efficient solutions to mitigate the impact of the transport sector on NO2 levels in Ireland.

Research Fellow in Engineering, Dr Vincent Carragher, said: “Quality of life and wellbeing are important features of sustainability and I hope that vulnerable groups and communities at risk from NO2 pollution will benefit from this EPA-funded research.”

The project team comprises Professor Margaret O’Mahony, Professor Brian Broderick and Dr Vincent Carragher from Trinity’s School of Engineering, and Professor Martina Hennessy from Trinity’s School of Medicine.

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