The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has warned that Ireland needs to accelerate progress towards clean energy and environmentally-friendly transport options.
The agency made the recommendations in its Air Quality Report for 2018, which has been launched today to coincide with World Lung Day.
The report shows that while Ireland’s air quality complied with the legal minimums outlined by the European Union, the health-related guidelines outlined by the World Health Organization (WHO) were exceeded.
The WHO guidelines are the benchmark for global air quality globally and exceeding these is described as “a cause for concern” by the EPA.
The report was based on data gathered at 57 monitoring stations around Ireland. It showed that levels at the monitoring sites were below the EU legislative limit values in 2018.
However, Ireland was above WHO air quality guideline value levels at a number of monitoring sites for fine particulate matter, ozone and nitrogen dioxide, and was also above the European Environment Agency reference level for PAH, a toxic chemical, at three monitoring sites.
Transport emissions in urban areas and emissions from burning solid fuels for home heating are the primary issues when it comes to air quality in Ireland, according to the authors of the report.
Poor air quality can be a factor in a myriad of health issues, both short and long term.
These can range from issues like headaches and breathing difficulties to issues such as asthma, reduced liver function or cardiovascular disease. There are an estimated 1,180 premature deaths in Ireland per year due to air pollution.
The authors of the report raises particular concern regarding the levels of fine particles in our air. Levels of this pollutant are particularly high during the winter months due to the increased use of solid fuels, such as coal, peat and wood in-home heating. This is particularly acute in small towns and villages.
The EPA report notes that any movement along the spectrum of home heating choices and solid fuels towards cleaner modes will have a subsequent improvement on air quality.
The report also notes that, in urban areas, transport- related emissions of nitrogen dioxide are increasing and it looks probable that Ireland will exceed the EU annual legal limit value for nitrogen dioxide in the near future.
Launching the report, Micheál Lehane, director of the EPA’s office of Radiation Protection and Environmental Monitoring, said:
We all expect that the air we breathe is clean, but we cannot take this for granted. Air pollution is a major environmental risk to health, so it is now time to tackle the two key issues that impact negatively on air quality in Ireland: Transport emissions in large urban areas and emissions from burning of solid fuels.
“The choices we make affect the levels of pollution in the air we breathe. We need to decarbonise our public transport system and in general reduce our reliance on internal combustion vehicles. Moving to cleaner ways of heating our homes will also significantly improve air quality in our towns and cities.”
In its recommendations to improve air quality, the EPA said that people need to be encouraged “to move to using cleaner fuels, more efficient methods of using those fuels and with effective implementation and enforcement of the proposed nationwide ‘smoky’ coal ban can all help reduce air pollution”.
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