Comparison of national ambient air monitoring results with WHO guideline values for particulates and PAHs shows the need for progress with regard to reducing levels of emissions attributable to residential heating. The burning of solid fuel is a source of particulate matter (PM) and other air pollutants including SO2 and PAHs. PM and PAHs arise from domestic solid fuel burning, which particularly impacts air quality in areas where the sale of bituminous coal is permitted.
New EU emissions standards for vehicles, cleaner technology, and a reduction in the number of vehicles using the roads as a result of the economic downturn led to a decrease in NO2 in our urban centres during the recent recession. However, economic recovery has led to an increase in transport related NO2 levels. In 2019 there was an exceedance of the nitrogen dioxide annual limit value at St. John’s Road West. Further exceedances of the limit value in urban areas are likely unless remediation actions are put in place.
Air pollution has a transboundary aspect meaning that emissions from one country can be transported via meteorological conditions to other countries. National emissions ceilings are in place across Europe to control emissions of four key transboundary pollutants: sulphur dioxide (SO2), oxides of nitrogen (NOx), volatile organic compounds (VOCs), and ammonia (NH3). These pollutants can contribute to acidification, eutrophication and ground-level ozone formation, but they have shown declining concentrations since the introduction of recent legislation.
Limit values have been established by the European Union based on contributions by environmental and health experts in order to help mitigate the impact on Member State populations. Upon exceedance of these limit values, Member States must implement air quality plans to assess and combat the problem.
The WHO has devised air quality guidelines in order to inform policymakers and provide appropriate air quality targets worldwide, based on the latest health information available. Since 2012, the EPA’s annual reports have been assessing air quality against these much more stringent air quality indicators. There have been exceedances of the guideline values for particulate matter, ozone and PAHs and the EPA has called for the adoption of these more stringent WHO guidelines in Europe for particulate matter and ozone.