Continuing emissions from domestic solid fuel use are contributing to high levels of particulate matter and PAHs in villages, towns and cities. The ban on smoky coal in cities and towns with populations in excess of 10,000 will have an impact on levels of particulate matter. However, there is a need for regulation of solid fuel beyond coal.
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 fuel 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 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.