Air pollution killed 550 people in Northern Ireland in 2011, according to a new study.
That represented almost 4% of annual deaths here, the study by the Department of the Environment (DoE) said.
The purpose of the cross-border study carried out last year is to help both Stormont and the Dail develop effective policies to reduce harmful emissions from solid fuels used in the home – mainly coal and peat.
The research commissioned by the North South Ministerial Council also claimed that a 40% reduction in the number of pollutant particles created by fuel-burning could save more than 500 lives a year.
Green Party leader Steven Agnew said that the findings of the study pointed to a need to increase the number of smokeless zones in Northern Ireland.
He called for further action to control particulate emissions from other fossil fuels used in cars, public transport and power stations. “Pollution from coal and from road vehicles are the two main factors in air pollution in Northern Ireland,” the North Down MLA said.
“We urgently need to increase the number of smokeless zones across Northern Ireland in order to cut pollution levels.”
Mr Agnew accepted that there were issues around the higher cost of smokeless coal. But he said that cheaper, smoky coal was worse value for money as it gave out less heat while generating higher levels of pollution. A DoE spokesperson said that the full results of the study would be made public later this year.
“Air pollution problems experienced in both Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland resulting from residential solid fuel combustion were considered at the North South Ministerial Council where it was decided that a joint all-island study be commissioned.
“The minister will be making a statement to Assembly in June, and following this the report will be made available.”
The study commenced in February 2014 and is ongoing. The leaked report said that in the Republic, 1,140 adults had died in 2011 from air pollution caused by residential solid fuel burning.
The worst areas for pollution are found in deprived or rural parts of Ireland, where people rely on coal or peat to heat their homes. The burning of peat made the greatest contribution to air pollution in the Republic, the report found.
In Northern Ireland, councils can declare all or part of their district a smoke control area under the Clean Air (NI) Order 1981. Smoke Control Orders prohibit the emission of smoke from chimneys in the area.
Before the new super councils took over in April, 16 of the 26 district councils had smoke control areas in operation.