Continuing emissions from domestic solid fuel use are contributing to high levels of particulate matter and PAHs in villages, towns and cities. Under new regulations, introduced this autumn, restrictions are placed on the sale of specified smoky fuels. Smoky solid fuels are proven to be a major contributor to air pollution in Ireland.
Peat burning is still prevalent in many parts of the country – most particularly in rural areas – and contributes significantly in terms of particulates. Green/ wet wood and peat burning is emerging as a potentially significant contributor to PAH and particulate matter levels in Ireland, along with a wide variety of other solid fuel products that are on the market.
Essential to the goal of improving our air quality will be a shift for Irish consumers from solid fuels to cleaner fuel alternatives, along with an awareness of the impact our choice of fuel for home heating has on air quality. Incentives for people to use alternatives should continue to be encouraged at a national level.
The implementation of the revised National Emissions Ceiling (NEC) Directive across Europe, as part of the EU Clean Air Policy Package, has been having a positive impact on pollutant levels. A rise in ammonia through agricultural expansion could lead to an increase in the secondary formation of particulate matter. Measures such as anaerobic digestion of animal wastes with associated energy recovery and low-emission land spreading practices can have multiple benefits for air quality, water quality and climate change.
Many of the sources of air pollutants are also the sources of greenhouse gases, so an increased understanding and policy alignment of air quality and climate change is essential. More research is needed into the links between air quality and public health to add to ongoing EPA Research Programme funded research in this area including the Inhale and Impact of NO2 on Health projects and valuable work carried out by other researchers. This understanding will help to identify the critical issues and help policymakers implement the necessary changes to improve our air quality and associated public health.
The EPA welcomes the publication of Irelands first Clean Air Strategy. The ambition in the Clean Air Strategy to move towards the World Health Organisation (WHO) air quality guideline levels is appropriate to reduce the negative health effects of poor air quality, however achievement of the WHO guideline levels will be challenging.
The European Commission's European Green Deal sets out the EU’s ambition in relation to air quality and highlights the zero-pollution ambition for a toxic-free environment. The Commission proposes to strengthen provisions on monitoring, modelling and air quality plans to help local authorities achieve cleaner air as part of its review of the EU air quality Directives. The review will also move the legal limit values for air pollutants towards closer alignment with the current WHO air quality guidelines (2021).