Pollution from a range of illnesses skyrocketed in a massive fire that burned for two days in Belfast, environmental records show.
Levels of fine particles called PM2.5, which have been linked to conditions such as cancer and lung disease, dropped from 6 microns per cubic meter to 88 microns in the span of four hours during the fire in the Belfast docks.
Smoke has soared in the air along the shore of Lough ever since, Reports live from Belfast.
A peak of fine particles called PM2.5 was measured in the air at the Holywood air pollution station along the A2.
PM2.5 is so called because it is less than 2.5 micrometers.
Fine particles are so small that they stay in the air longer, making them more likely to be inhaled.
Studies have found a strong link between exposure to PM2.5 and cancer, as well as premature death from heart and lung disease.
They can also trigger chronic illnesses like asthma, heart attack, bronchitis, and other breathing problems.
Measurements taken at the Holywood air pollution station also showed that PM10 had reached 111 µm when the last reading was taken at 7 µm on Tuesday.
Before the fire, this reading was 5 µm.
Levels of both toxins in the air remained high throughout Wednesday, when PM2.5 reached 80 µm and PM 10 reached 106 µm.
It is not known whether the smoke and flames hit Newtownabbey so badly, as its air pollution station appears to have been shut down since December 4.
Green Party MP Rachael Woods said: “I would like to thank all of the first responders who attended and were on the scene over the past few days to put out the blaze since Tuesday.
“The factory fire created thick plumes of smoke which many witnessed around East Belfast and Holywood, and people have been rightly advised to keep their windows closed in the area.
“This horrific incident also puts the level of air pollution into perspective, and I’m not surprised by numbers from the Holywood monitoring station showing peaks of pm2.5 and pm10 over the past two days.
“These particles are among the most dangerous for health and are a major cause of disease.
“The scientific and medical evidence is clear on the harmful effects of air pollution – respiratory disease, premature death and more recently, the links between dementia and miscarriages.
“Air pollution is currently costing Northern Ireland hundreds of millions of dollars, but more worryingly, it is currently costing hundreds of lives.
“Improving air quality in the longer term requires a collaborative approach from all levels of government and the Minister of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs must present the air quality strategy. long-awaited air which adopts stricter legal limits, allows the creation of clean air zones and prohibits the sale of polluting household fuels.
“We must take the urgent measures necessary to improve the quality of life for all of our citizens.”
The Department for the Environment, Agriculture and Rural Affairs oversees air pollution monitoring in Northern Ireland. You can check the number areas they monitor at https://www.airqualityni.co.uk/
They have been contacted for comment.
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