Ireland’s air quality faces pollution challenges from solid fuel burning and traffic

Date released: Nov 16 2016

  • EPA Report Air Quality in Ireland 2015 – Key Indicators of Ambient Air Quality released today.
  • 2015 air quality monitoring shows:
    • Ireland did not exceed any legal EU limit values in 2015 for ambient air quality monitored at any of our 31 air quality network monitoring stations
    • Burning of solid fuel and emissions from vehicle exhausts remain the main threats to good air quality in Ireland
    • Particulate matter and ozone levels were above the World Health Organisation (WHO) guideline values
    • Concentrations of polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons were above European Environment Agency reference levels
    • EPA’s proposed National Ambient Air Quality Monitoring Programme looks to increase engagement with the public on air quality
  • Real-time air quality information for Ireland is available on the EPA website

In general air quality in Ireland is good, largely as a result of our relative lack of large cities, weather and access to predominantly clean air from the south west. Our air quality compares favourably with other EU member states, many of whom are in exceedance of EU limit values for pollutants such as particulate matter, ozone and nitrogen dioxide. 

The report, Air Quality in Ireland 2015 – Key Indicators of Ambient Air Quality, released today shows that despite our monitored air quality being within EU limit values we face challenges in maintaining this position. Levels of 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. Also in our urban areas we face potential exceedances of nitrogen dioxide limit values unless we move to clean transport choices.

Ireland met all EU legal standards for air quality in 2015 at EPA monitoring stations but values for particulate matter - from solid fuel burning and vehicle exhaust fumes - and ozone were above the World Health Organisation air quality guidelines at some of these stations. Polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAH), which originate from solid fuel and “back yard” burning, were also above the European Environment Agency reference level.

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. It is becoming increasingly clear that there is no safe level of air pollution. With this in mind it is time to 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.”

She continued,

“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 World Health Organisation air quality guidelines.  The EPA is calling for movement towards the adoption of these stricter guidelines, especially for particulates and ozone, as legal and enforceable standards across Europe and in Ireland.” 

Patrick Kenny, EPA Air Quality Manager, discussed the EPA’s proposed National Ambient Air Quality Monitoring Programme, currently out for public consultation:

“The choices that we as consumers make about how to heat our homes and travel to work and school can directly impact on our local air quality.  A key part of the approach to tackling these issues is increased public access to air quality data and information. We welcome public comment on this and other approaches we are proposing in the draft National Ambient Air Quality Monitoring Programme.”

The National Ambient Air Quality Monitoring Programme 2017-2022 Consultation Paper and Executive Summary are available on the EPA website.  Views and comments are welcome before the closing date of Friday 25th November 2016.

The Air Quality in Ireland 2015 – Key Indicators of Ambient Air Quality report is also available on the EPA website.

ENDS


Notes to Editor:
The EPA continually monitors air quality across Ireland and provides the air quality index for health and real-time results on the website at www.airquality.epa.ie. 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.

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.

This report provides an overview of ambient air quality trends in Ireland in 2015 based on monitoring data from 31 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 monitored through the air quality network but are measured separately in milk samples as an indicator of dioxins in the environment. There is also a chapter on the latest developments in EPA funded air quality research and a chapter on key statistics from work undertaken in air enforcement in 2015 by the EPA.

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.