Approximately 1,200 people die prematurely in Ireland every year as a result of air pollution.
“In Ireland the premature deaths attributable to air pollution are estimated at 1,200 people,” states today’s Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)’s report.
“The most common causes of premature death attributable to poor air quality are strokes and heart disease.”
In contrast with our European counterparts, the World Health Organisation (WHO) estimates that more than 400,000 premature deaths can be linked to poor air quality in Europe annually.
Overall, however, Ireland’s air quality is “good relative to other EU member states”. The introduction of the smoky coal ban in Dublin in 1990 has played a key role in this and this ban will be extended nationwide in 2018.
There are some specific challenges though, in spite of the general picture; in urban areas such as Dublin and Cork, levels of nitrogen dioxide are close to the specified EU limit values for air quality as a result of exhaust emissions from vehicles.
As a country, we face significant challenges in order to meet new air quality standards for fine particulate matter (PM10 and PM2.5) concentrations by 2020.
PM10 refers to particles with a diameter of less than 10 micrometres. These particles can penetrate the lungs, while the related pollutant PM2.5 refers to particles with a diameter of less than 2.5 micrometres.
This smaller size allows them to penetrate the alveoli of the lungs, where gaseous exchange occurs.
“PM10 concentrations have decreased in urban environments since the early 2000s, mainly as a result of the shift from residential solid fuel and developments in diesel particulate filter technology.
“The picture in smaller towns and villages in Ireland is different, where the predominant source of PM is combustion of solid fuel,” states the EPA report.
The agency said a key part of the approach to tackling our air quality challenges is through public engagement.
Some suggestions, from the EPA that members of the public could implement are: Using low-smoke solid fuel, opting for public transport where possible, switching to a gas boiler, and transitioning to a hybrid or electric car.