Dublin Surge Project
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Dublin Surge Project 
Mairéad Glennon 

Launch of Dublin Surge Project
Minister Fergus O’Dowd launches the Dublin SURGE Project report, 18 April 2012 at the Geological Survey of Ireland’s Geoscience 2012 conference at Dublin Castle. L-R: Ray Scanlon (Acting Principal Geologist), Mairéad Glennon (Project Geologist), Minister O’Dowd and Koen Verbruggen (Acting Director, GSI).

Soil Urban Geochemistry study for Dublin reveals historical impacts on urban soil quality.
The recently completed Dublin SURGE (Soil Urban Geochemistry) Project has developed the first baseline dataset of persistent organic pollutants and heavy metals in Dublin soils. The project, run with the assistance of the Geological Survey of Norway, is part of a Europe-wide initiative of the Geological Surveys of Europe (EuroGeoSurveys) which aims to highlight the importance of urban soils to environmental health in European cities.

Eighty-two per cent of Europe’s population now lives in cities. With Ireland’s proportion of urban dwellers at 62% and rising, it has become more important than ever to understand and manage environmental quality in urban green space, where people are in contact with soil. The project for the first time provides comprehensive information on natural and human-sourced chemical concentrations in soil, relevant to the protection of human health, compliance with environmental legislation, land-use planning and urban regeneration.

In October and November 2009 over 1000 samples were collected across the greater Dublin area. With the support of the four local authorities in Dublin, public lands including parks, playgrounds, sports fields and allotments, were sampled. Three to four point samples were taken per km2, avoiding areas of obvious contamination in order to measure the representative baseline concentrations.

Results show that the soils of inner city Dublin have higher levels of potentially harmful elements and persistent organic pollutants than outer city areas. This chemical pattern is one which is seen in cities around the world, and is consistent historical industry, fossil fuel burning, reuse of contaminated soil and leaded paint and petrol use which has occurred during 1000 years of human habitation in Dublin. Results for heavy metals indicate that concentrations of lead, copper, zinc and mercury are strongly influenced by human activities, with highest concentrations in the docklands, the inner city and heavy industry areas.

Polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) were detected across the city, with maximum concentrations occurring in the city centre zone. This trend reflects historical sources of domestic coal burning, industrial emissions and modern traffic emissions which are associated with city centre locations. Results for polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) in soil indicate isolated, low level detections in Dublin, mainly in the city centre. The PCB compositions indicate that contamination is probably associated with historical industrial sources and old paint particles in soil rather than modern, active sources.

Many advances in environmental protection have been made in Irish cities which now protect soil from historical pollution sources. Through collaboration of environmental experts, health authorities and regulators, deterioration of Ireland’s soil resource can be prevented in the future, especially in public areas where people can come into contact with urban soil. Dublin City Council now refers to SURGE data as part of its local area planning, in order to inform future land use.

A number of promising research areas lie ahead for SURGE. Further work is already underway at the National Centre for Geocomputation at NUI Maynooth, using historical industries data to better understand and potentially predict the pattern of contaminants in soil. SURGE data is available to researchers on an application basis. More information, including the SURGE report is available from www.gsi.ie/surge.