Ireland's air quality compares favourably with other EU countries

Date released: Sep 28 2015

Irelands air quality compares favourably with other EU countries

  • EPA Report Air Quality in Ireland 2014 – Key Indicators of Ambient Air Quality released today.
  • 2014 air quality monitoring shows:
    • Ireland continues to enjoy good air quality, relative to other EU Member States.
    • Ireland did not exceed any legal EU limit values in 2014 for ambient air quality at any of the air quality network monitoring stations.
    • Burning of solid fuel and emissions from vehicle exhausts remain the main threats to air quality in Ireland.
    • Particulate matter and ozone values were higher than the World Health Organisation (WHO) guideline values.
    • Dioxin levels compare favourably with previous EPA studies and other EU countries.
  • Real-time air quality information for Ireland is available on the EPA website.

Ireland’s air quality currently is good, relative to other EU member states, but maintaining this standard is a growing challenge, according to the EPA’s latest air quality report. The report, Air Quality In Ireland 2014 – Key Indicators of Ambient Air Quality, released today shows that air quality in Ireland is generally good across the country, but particulate matter in our air is of growing concern, especially during the winter months when people’s fuel choices can directly impact on air quality and on our health, particularly in our small towns and villages.

In launching the report, Laura Burke, Director General of the EPA, said,

“Environmental protection and health protection are inextricably linked. We all expect that the air we breathe is clean but we cannot take this for granted. This year marks the 25th anniversary of Dublin’s smoky coal ban – a ground-breaking piece of legislation with significant proven benefits for both environment and population health. It is time now to build on these successes and tackle the two key issues impacting on air quality in Ireland – transport emissions in large urban areas and emissions from smoky fuels in our small towns around the country. While the EU has introduced and implemented a range of legal instruments to improve air quality, these standards are still not in line with the tighter WHO air quality guidelines and the EPA is now calling for movement towards the adoption of these stricter guidelines, in particular for particulates and ozone, as the legal standards across Europe and in Ireland.’

According to Patrick Kenny, EPA Air Quality Manager:

“Ireland met all EU legal standards for air quality in 2014 at EPA monitoring stations but values for particulate matter, and ozone were above the WHO air quality guidelines at some of these stations. Polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAH) were also above the EEA estimated reference level. The choices that we as consumers make about how we heat our homes and travel to work and school can directly impact on our local air quality. However, people also need to have realistic and affordable options for both public transport and home heating so that the choices they make are not having a negative impact on air quality. Public policy in areas such as transport and energy needs to support and help our citizens make these better choices for the environment.”

The Air Quality in Ireland 2014 – Key Indicators of Ambient Air Quality report is available on the EPA website.

The EPA continually monitors air quality across Ireland and provides the air quality index for health and real-time results on the website at Results are updated hourly on the website, and you can log on at any time to check whether the current air quality in your locality is good, fair or poor.

Further information: Emily Williamson/Annette Cahalane, EPA Media Relations Office: 053-91 70770 (24 hours) and

Notes to Editor:

This report provides an overview of ambient air quality trends in Ireland in 2014 based on monitoring data from 33 stations in operation during the year. Time series air quality concentrations are presented as a set of indicators, which compare measured concentrations with air quality standards for a range of air pollutants. The air quality analysis presented here is based on concentration measurements of the following pollutants:

  • sulphur dioxide;
  • nitrogen dioxide and oxides of nitrogen;
  • carbon monoxide;
  • ozone;
  • particulate matter - PM10 and PM2.5;
  • benzene and volatile organic compounds (VOCs);
  • heavy metals - lead, arsenic, cadmium, nickel and mercury;
  • polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAH);
  • elemental carbon/organic carbon (EC/OC) as part of PM2.5 speciation; and
  • anions and cations as part of PM2.5 speciation.

The pollutants of most concern in terms of health impacts are particulate matter, PAH and, to a lesser extent, ozone and nitrogen dioxide. The sources and impact of these air pollutants, current levels in Ireland and trends over time for each pollutant are outlined in this report. A chapter on dioxins in the Irish environment is also included. Dioxins are not included in the air quality network but are measured separately in milk samples.

The EPA Air Quality Index for Health is a web-based index, developed in conjunction with the Health Service Executive, Met Éireann and the Department of the Environment, Community and Local Government that shows what the current air quality is across Ireland. The Air Quality Index for Health is a coloured scale divided into 4 bands: Good; Fair; Poor and Very poor, with health advice provided for each band. The Twitter feed @EPAAirQuality keeps the public up to date with air quality in their region.

Under EU legislation, Ireland is required to reduce exposure to fine particulate matter (PM2.5) by 10% between 2012 and 2020. This reduction, known as the National Exposure Reduction Target, will require an integrated approach across a number of sectors including industrial, transport and residential emissions, but will lead to many health and environmental benefits. In addition, the World Health Organisation has laid down more stringent guidelines for air quality, which may be adopted in our legislation in the future.

Irelands air quality in 2014

  • Air monitoring data from 33 stations in the National Ambient Air Quality Monitoring Network was assessed against legislative limit and target values for the protection of human health and vegetation
  • Air monitoring data was also compared to the much more stringent World Health Organistation (WHO) guideline values
  • Ireland did not exceed any legislative EU limit values in 2014 for ambient air quality
  • WHO guideline values were exceeded as follows:
    • Ozone at 8 monitoring sites
    • Particulate Matter PM10 at 2 monitoring sites
    • Particulate Matter PM2.5 at 2 monitoring sites
  • EEA reference levels were exceeded as follows:
    • PAH at 4 monitoring sites
  • Irelands air quality relative to our European counterparts is of good quality

Air Polution Episodes in 2014

  • Icelandic Volcano impacts on Irish Air - The Bardarbunga volcanic eruption led to elevated concentrations of sulphur dioxide being observed over Ireland for a short period in September 2014.
  • Transboundary air pollution episode, April 2014 - a particulate matter pollution episode (originating in Eastern Europe) impacted North Western Europe and Ireland in April 2014
  • Licensed facility fire in Dublin, January 2014 (at the Oxigen waste management facility in Ballymount, Dublin City).

Current and future challenges

  • Solid fuel use - Comparison with WHO guideline values for particulates and EEA estimated reference level for PAH show the need for progress with regard to reducing levels . Essential to the goal of improving our air quality will be a shift for the Irish consumer from solid fuel to cleaner fuel alternatives and awareness of the impact our choice of fuel for home heating has on the air quality of our locality.
  • Transport - Increasing road transport will lead to an increase in NO2 levels, particularily as our economy continues to recover. In the short term, efficent traffic management coupled with environmentally sound consumer choice of transport mode and fuel is needed to minimise emissions. In the longer term, more choices in terms of public transport are needed in towns and cities
  • Transboundary ozone - Irelands air mass is subject to transboundary impacts of pollutants , in particular ozone. To tackle this problem, an integrated, European wide approach is needed to reduce the levels of ozone precursor compounds in our air