Environment and wellbeing

Any deterioration in the quality of the essential services that we need for life, including air, water and food can impact on our health and quality of life, and ultimately on our life expectancy.

Current trends in environment and wellbeing

Image person on beach

Whilst the impact on our life expectancy is significant, environmental pollution also reduces our quality of life, as living with illnesses such as cancers and heart disease impacts on our wellbeing.

Air pollution is a major environmental health risk (WHO 2018). Air quality in Ireland is generally good, though there are localised issues across the country. The European Environment Agency (EEA) estimates that there were 1,300 premature deaths in 2017 alone in Ireland due to PM2.5 air pollution.

Noise exposure is a health concern and not only an annoyance issue. The EEA estimates that long-term exposure to environmental noise from road traffic, railways, aircraft and industry contributes to 12,000 premature deaths each year in Europe. 

There is a wide range of potential health impacts associated with climate change. In addition to physical health impacts, climate change can have profound impacts on psychological wellbeing and mental health. 

Loss of biodiversity and species extinction affect the ecosystems on which we rely for health and wellbeing. Food production, pharmaceutical production are particularly impacted. Chemical exposure can also negatively influence quality of life. 

Lack of access to clean and healthy green and blue spaces is associated with poorer outcomes for mental and physical health. Social inequity is a significant issue. These inequity issues have been recognised as part of the 2019 EU Green Deal, which highlights the need for a just transition to a more sustainable society.

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Causes of environmental health pressures

Thick chimney smoke in the air above housing

Burning solids fuels for home heating is one of the the biggest sources of national emissions of fine particulate matter (PM2.5). The other key air pollutant from a health viewpoint is nitrogen oxides (NOx). Exposure to radon is the second leading cause of lung cancer in Ireland and is linked to the development of 300 cases of lung cancer each year. Road transport noise is by far the most significant contributor to annoyance and sleep disturbance in Ireland.

Contamination of water supplies and lead in drinking water continue to be health concerns. The main pressures impacting water quality in Ireland include agriculture, waste water discharges, impacts to the physical habitat conditions including excess fine sediment (hydromorphology), and pressures from forestry activities. 

Widespread and excessive use, overuse and misuse of antimicrobial agents, particularly antibiotics, has significantly contributed to the development and spread of antimicrobial resistance worldwide.  The presence of persistent manmade chemicals in the environment is also a significant issue which will impact on the environment and human health for many generations. 


Learn more about the causes of health impacts from the environment

What's being done

E&W - People in Park

Within Ireland, environment and health is an area of growing public interest and involves many organisations from both health and environmental perspectives. The EPA provides funding for a diverse number of research projects related to environment, health and wellbeing.

At a European level the key driver of societal, economic and environmental policy is sustainability. The EU Green Deal/Action plan has a ‘zero pollution ambition’ to protect citizens' health. It sets out clear ambitions to deliver a green transition, with sustainability at the core across all policy areas. The Green Deal includes specific action plans and strategies for clean water, clean air, sustainable use of chemicals and further limiting industrial emissions. 

The other elements of the Green Deal and 8th Environment Action Programme (which supports the Green Deal) will also very much support the provision of a healthy environment, delivering elements such as protection and restoration of nature, sustainable food, circular economy, limiting climate change impacts and a just transition fund to support those regions and people that are potentially adversely affected by the green transition.

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E&W - Girl on Beach

Ireland’s environment is of good quality, and our citizens have a generally clean and safe environment to live in. The availability of green spaces (parks, woods, countryside) and blue spaces (ponds, riverbanks, lake shores and seashores), along with clean, fresh air and breath-taking landscapes, provides an enviable resource which should be shared, valued, protected and enjoyed.

In common with countries across Europe, key high-level environment and health issues include climate change, antimicrobial resistance, chemical pollution and air quality. In addition, there are a number of national issues that require action, such as health impacts associated with localised air pollution due to solid fuel burning, ongoing reductions in the quality of our rivers and lakes due to a range of pressures including waste water treatment and agriculture and drinking water contamination related to VTEC (Verocytotoxigenic E. coli).

Some of the key challenges facing Ireland are: on-site waste water treatment systems (such as septic tanks) and urban waste water discharges impacting on water quality and amenities; urban air quality in cities and towns; nuisance and amenity impact from noise; and radon in homes.

What is clear from international studies is that a clean, protected and accessible environment contributes significantly to the status of our health and quality of life, to reducing healthcare costs, and to the successful delivery of national public health policy. Accordingly, Ireland must put in place the necessary measures to ensure that our natural environment is protected and enhanced so that we can derive the associated wellbeing and life expectancy benefits.

Reference material 


Environment and wellbeing indicators

State of Environment Report 2020 - Environmental Noise