Date released: April 22, 2022
The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) today published a report on its assessment of emissions of five key air pollutants which impact air quality, health and the environment. The pollutants, which are subject to reduction commitments under the EU National Emission Reduction Commitments (NEC) Directive, are:
Emissions of other air pollutants and heavy metals not subject to NEC Directive emission reduction commitments are also assessed in the report.
This report shows that although ammonia emissions decreased slightly in 2020, they remained non-compliant with the National Emissions Reduction Commitment (ERC). Ammonia emissions have now been non-compliant for eight of the past nine years. The 2020 data shows that increased use of abatement technologies has led to a reduction in ammonia emissions. Low emissions spreading techniques were used to apply approximately 36 per cent of cattle slurries in 2020, a greater percentage than had been projected, which avoided over 5,600 tonnes of ammonia emissions. A 62 per cent increase in the uptake of protected urea fertiliser also saved over 500 tonnes of ammonia emissions, though usage remains low compared to other fertiliser types.
Emissions of nitrogen oxides (NOx) decreased by six per cent in 2020, with transport NOx emissions decreasing by almost 16 per cent. This reflected the reduction in transport activity seen as a result of the COVID-19 restrictions as well as improvement in vehicle NOx abatement technologies.
Despite seven per cent lower fine particulate matter (PM2.5) emissions from the transport sector, overall PM2.5 emissions increased in 2020 due to higher emissions from home heating. NOx and PM2.5 emissions have human health implications, particularly in urban environments. Despite compliance with NEC Directive reduction commitments, particulate matter levels recorded at EPA ambient air quality monitoring stations in 2020 continued to be a concern in villages, towns and cities.
Emissions of non-methane volatile organic compounds (NMVOCs) decreased by three per cent in 2020. This was due to reduced emissions from solvents and the food and beverage industry during 2020. NMVOCs mostly arise from spirit production in the food and beverage industry, animal manures and fertilisers and solvent use including paints and adhesives. NMVOC emissions from spirit production alone have increased by 65 per cent over the last decade and effective abatement measures will need to be identified if future emissions reduction targets are to be met.
Emissions of sulphur dioxide continued on their long downward trend in 2020 and have now decreased by over 94 per cent since 1990.
Sharon Finegan, Director of the EPA’s Office of Environmental Sustainability said:
"While reductions in ammonia emissions are welcome, much more remains to be done to end Ireland’s continuing non-compliance with NEC Directive targets. Full Implementation of ammonia abatement measures outlined in Agriculture Sectoral Plans, such as Low Emission Slurry Spreading and use of inhibited urea fertiliser products, is required to bring Ireland into compliance with the 2030 emission reduction commitment for ammonia.”
“Nitrogen losses to both the air and water cause significant environmental pressure without providing any soil fertility benefit. The Nitrates action Programme, Ag Climatise and the draft River Basin Management Plan 2022-2027 all reflect the need to reduce nutrient loss to the environment.”
Stephen Treacy, EPA Senior Manager said:
“Measures in the National Air Pollution Control Programme (NAPCP), Clean Air Strategy and draft Solid Fuel regulations have the potential to decrease national emissions of NO2 and particulate matter and improve outcomes for local air quality and health. Implementing these measures will see a further shift away from solid fuel combustion for residential heating and the introduction of new standards.
Further research and new measures are needed to address emissions of non-methane volatile organic compounds. This particularly applies to sectors where this source of emissions is continuing to grow, such as spirit production within the food & beverage industry.”
For further detail on these figures, see the EPA report Ireland’s Air Pollutant Emissions 1990-2030 on the EPA website.
Notes to Editor
UNECE Convention on Long-Range Transboundary Air Pollution (LRTAP)
The LRTAP Convention of 1979 was the first international treaty to deal with air pollution on a broad regional basis. The 32 signatories to the Convention agreed the principles of international cooperation for air pollution abatement. The number of substances covered by the Convention and its protocols has been gradually extended over time, notably to include ground-level ozone, persistent organic pollutants, heavy metals and particulate matter. Although Ireland hasn’t yet ratified the Gothenburg Protocol setting out national commitments to abate acidification, eutrophication and ground-level ozone, the European Union has, and binding national emission ceilings for Ireland are specified in the EU transposition of the Protocol, the National Emissions Ceiling Directive.
National Emissions Ceiling Directive
Directive (EU) 2016/2284 (replacing 2001/81/EC) ‘on the reduction of national emissions of certain atmospheric pollutants’ sets national emission reduction commitments for Member States and the EU for five important air pollutants: nitrogen oxides, non-methane volatile organic compounds, sulphur dioxide, ammonia and fine particulate matter. The new NEC Directive, which entered into force in December 2016, sets 2020 and 2030 emission reduction commitments for five main air pollutants. The emission ceilings for 2010 - set in the earlier directive - remained applicable for Member States until the end of 2019.
Five main air pollutants