On the 28th January, 2014, the Birgu Local Council organised the third and last workshop of the COHEIRS project, entitled ‘L-Arja ta’ Madwarna’ (The Air Around Us).
Mr Trevor Mizzi, Deputy Mayor for the Birgu Local Council, introduced the speakers, Mr Mark Causon, Director of Genista Research Foundation and project consultant, and Profs Raymond Agius, Professor of Occupational and Environmental Medicine and Director of the Centre for Occupational and Environmental Health at the University of Manchester School of Medicine, while also introducing the topics to be discussed during this workshop. Mr Mizzi also moderated the session.
Mr Mark Causon gave the first presentation entitled ‘The Air We Live In’ where he mentioned several environmental issues which in some way or another harm the living generation. He also explained what the European Union is doing to promote healthy living. Furthermore, Mr Causon also gave some brief information about the national report which was recently launched outlining the environmental inequalities found in Malta and the negative effects these have on people's health and well-being, in which was stated that air pollution is a major environmental problem which causes a range of diseases. It can be a significant challenge due to the diversity of pollution sources such as transport, energy, production, industry and businesses, and household heating.
Immediately after, Profs Raymond Agius presented his report ‘L-Arja ta’ Madwarna u s-Sahha’ (Health and the Air Around Us). He initiated his presentation by giving some information about the general environment and the various types of matter which cause air pollution in the Maltese Islands, especially the sulphate which can be found in the air in the southern region. He also mentioned that harm on humans may be done due to the length of time an individual is exposed to these hazards and due to the concentration of the exposition.
Profs Agius stated that there are various diseases related to these hazards namely asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, chronic bronchitis and cancer. The air we breathe can also have an impact on blood circulation which can lead to heart attacks and stroke, it may also effect pregnancy and the baby within the womb, who may be born smaller than normal and less developed. Air pollution may also effect mental health.
Here Profs Raymond Agius made some general observations and gave some information about what can be done to help diminish air pollution and prevent our bodies from these diseases. Some solutions mentioned were: to use more public transport than personal cars, be more aware of how to dispose of rubbish and industrial waste, quit smoking, use less items especially around the house which may create allergies.
He concluded that in Malta the main direct hazards to the environment, apart from carbon dioxide and gases, is the black dust which is found in the southern part of the island due to the concentration of industrial zones in this part of the island. Profs Agius also briefly mentioned the project ESCAPE (European Study of Cohorts for Air Pollution Effects) which investigate long-term effects on human health of exposure to air pollution in Europe.
As soon as the presentations came to an end, the public was invited to make questions. Most of the questions asked were about asbestos exposure, as in this area one can find the dockyard and many former dockyard workers.
Mr Trevor Mizzi, Deputy Mayor for the Birgu Local Council and Mr Mark Causon, presented the conclusions from the workshop where participants where asked to discuss the issue of the air we breath.
The workshop was concluded with a speech from Mr John Boxall, Mayor of Birgu, who thanked all those present. He explained how this project has managed to bring awareness about many issues related to environmental health, and this was evidenced by the number of people who attended these workshops. This shows that the citizens need this type of information and this encourages the Birgu Local Council to keep involving itself in similar projects while continuing to work for a better living environment for its residents.