The WHO has described air pollution as the ‘single biggest environmental health risk’. In Ireland, the number of premature deaths attributable to air pollution is estimated at 1,300 people. Of growing concern are levels of particulate matter, due to domestic solid fuel burning, and levels of nitrogen dioxide in our urban areas, due to our dependence on the private motor car.

Current trends in air quality

Clouds in a blue sky

The ambient air quality pollutants of most concern on an EU-wide level are nitrogen dioxide, particulate matter (PM), ozone and Polycyclic Aromatic Hydrocarbons (PAHs). They can impact on human health, ecosystems and vegetation.  Monitoring is carried out to determine their concentration levels.

The main source of nitrogen oxides (NOx) in Ireland is emissions from traffic, along with electricity generating stations and industry.

Particulate matter (fine particles) can penetrate the lungs and cause health effects. PM2.5 tends to be a better signifier of man-made pollution (including domestic solid fuel burning, diesel-fuelled vehicle emissions), whereas PM10 can have a greater contribution from natural sources (such as sea salt and wind-blown dust).

Levels of ozone in Ireland are highly influenced by transboundary sources.  Though low in comparison with levels in mainland Europe, levels of ozone are higher in rural areas across Ireland than in urban areas. 

PAHs are organic compounds predominantly originating from solid fuel burning, particularly wood burning and, to a lesser extent, vehicle emissions. 

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Causes of air pollution

Smoke coming from the chimney of a home

In Ireland, the number of premature deaths attributable to air pollution are estimated at 1,300 people.

The most significant air pollutants are PM10 and PM2.5 which mainly arise from domestic solid fuel burning. Poor air quality leads to impacts on the cardiovascular and respiratory systems. The economic impact is also significant, with the increased costs of healthcare and lost working days.

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What's being done

An air monitor attached to a pole

Limit values have been established by the EU to help mitigate the impact of poor quality air on Member State populations. Upon exceedance of these limit values, Member States must implement air quality plans to assess and combat the problem. Local Authorities in Dublin and its suburbs, are now legally required to prepare an air quality action plan to address exceedances in the EU limit for nitrogen dioxide.

A national monitoring network supplies an ever increasing level of real-time data on air quality to the Irish public. The EPA co-ordinates and manages a nationwide network of monitoring stations which measures the levels of air pollutants and delivers this information to the public. The expanded network and citizen science projects ensure enhanced availability of accessible real-time air quality information to the public and can inform national policy development.

The EPA’s Air Quality Index for Health (AQIH) tells the public about the current air quality in their localised area, and whether or not it might affect their health. Calculated every hour, the AQIH is being used by health professionals to help patients who are sensitive to air pollution to manage their condition.

Outlook for Ireland's air quality

Aerial photo of Tullamore

A key future challenge for Ireland is in decreasing our particulate matter, Polycyclic Aromatic Hydrocarbons (PAHs) and ground level ozone concentration levels below the more stringent World Health Organisation (WHO) air quality guideline values.

Tackling transport sector pollutants will require a combination of secured national investment, advancements in technology, policy developments and, a shift in behaviour by us as individuals. Emphasis and priority should be given to public transport or clean transport over conventional internal combustion vehicles in all aspects of society. However, it is also the individual choices that people make that will have the most immediate and greatest impact on transport emissions in our urban areas where NO2 is problematic and where public transport is a viable option.

Learn more about the outlook for Ireland's air quality

 

Air Indicators