World Lung Day – Irish air quality is not meeting the World Health Organization’s guideline values for health

Date released: September 25, 2019

  • EPA publishes its annual air quality report to mark World Lung Day. The report shows that during 2018, Ireland’s air quality complied with the legally binding EU standards but did not meet the WHO’s guidelines values for health.
  • According to latest estimates there are 1,180 premature deaths in Ireland per year due to poor air quality
  • The two main culprits for poor air quality in Ireland are:
    • Particulate matter from domestic burning of solid fuels
    • Nitrogen dioxide from vehicle emissions in urban areas
  • Solutions include:
    • Moving towards cleaner ways of heating our homes. There is a spectrum of heating choices and any movement towards better choices will improve our air quality
    • Implementing the transport options outlined in the Government’s Climate Action Strategy

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has today launched its annual Air Quality report, on World Lung Day. The report shows that while air quality complied with the legal limits, the World Health Organization’s health-related guideline values were not met.

Air quality impacts people’s health and there are an estimated 1,180 premature deaths in Ireland per year due to air pollution. Levels of particulate matter – fine particles - in our air is of growing concern.  Levels of this pollutant are particularly high during the winter months when people’s use of solid fuels such as coal, peat and wood impacts negatively on air quality, especially in small towns and villages. The EPA report notes that any movement along the spectrum of home heating choices and solid fuel choices towards cleaner modes will have a subsequent improvement on air quality. 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.

In launching the report, Air Quality in Ireland 2018, Dr Micheál Lehane, Director of the EPA’s Office of Radiation Protection & 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.”

 Dr Ciara McMahon, EPA Programme Manager, said,

“The EPA’s air quality monitoring has shown that, while Ireland’s air quality complied with the EU legal standards in 2018, the levels of fine particles in the air we breathe did not meet the World Health Organization’s guideline values. Our monitoring also showed that in urban areas, the impact of traffic-related nitrogen dioxide pollution is increasing. These pollutants have a negative impact on people’s health and that is why we are continuing to install more monitoring stations across the country under the National Ambient Air Quality Monitoring Programme. This programme has now more than doubled the number of real-time monitoring stations providing air quality data across Ireland since 2017.”

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.  The EPA has previously called for movement towards the adoption of these stricter guidelines, as legal and enforceable standards across Europe and in Ireland.

The Air Quality in Ireland 2018 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 online at Results are updated hourly on the website, and people can log on at any time to check whether the current air quality is good, fair or poor.

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

Notes to Editor

Ambient air pollution: Ambient (outdoor) air pollution is recognised as a major environmental risk to health internationally. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), ambient air pollution accounts for an estimated 4.2 million deaths per year worldwide due to stroke, heart disease, lung cancer and chronic respiratory diseases, such as asthma. In children and adults, both short- and long-term exposure to ambient air pollution can lead to reduced lung function, respiratory infections and aggravated asthma.

Ireland did not exceed any legal EU limit values for ambient air quality monitored at any of our air quality network monitoring stations during 2018. However:

  • Early indications at one of our Dublin City Centre monitoring sites are that we could exceed EU limit values for nitrogen dioxide (NO2) in the near future. This is due largely to our reliance on fossil-fuelled motor vehicles for transport.
  • This finding further supports the work presented in the EPA’s recently published ‘Urban Environmental Indicators Report’ which highlighted the issues related to NO2¬ in Dublin City Centre. 
  • The tighter WHO air quality guideline values were exceeded at a number of monitoring sites for the following pollutants: particulate matter (PM10 and PM2.5), ozone and nitrogen dioxide (NO2).
    Concentrations of carcinogenic polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons were above European Environment Agency reference level. These pollutants derive from burning of solid fuel.

National Ambient Air Quality Monitoring Programme: The National Ambient Air Quality Monitoring Programme commenced at the end of 2017. This programme is providing more comprehensive, real-time localised air quality information linked to public health advice, as well as expanding the EPA’s capacity in modelling and citizen science. Real-time monitoring has more than doubled in Ireland since implementation of the programme began.

There are currently 57 monitoring stations in the network:

  • 17 new monitoring stations were installed in 2018.
  • 9 existing stations were upgraded to provide real-time particulate monitoring.

The Programme also has the following citizen science and citizen engagement activities:

  • GLOBE project in partnership with An Taisce
  • CleanAir@School in partnership with the EEA


Air quality in Ireland in 2018

  • Levels at monitoring sites in Ireland were below the EU legislative limit values in 2018.
  • Ireland was above World Health Organization (WHO) air quality guideline value levels at a number of monitoring sites for fine particulate matter, ozone and nitrogen dioxide (NO2).
  • Ireland was above the European Environment Agency reference level for PAH, a toxic chemical, at four monitoring sites.

Problem pollutants

  • Particulate matter from burning of solid fuel. 
  • Nitrogen dioxide from transport emissions in urban areas. 
  • Indications that we will exceed EU limit values for NO2 in the near future.

To tackle the problem of particulate matter we should:

  • Move towards clean ways of heating our homes.
  • Improve energy efficiency of homes.

To reduce the impact of NO2 we can:

  • Implement the transport options in the government’s Climate Strategy.
  • Individuals should consider their transport choices.