Research 318: Source Apportionment of Particulate Matter in Urban and Rural Residential Areas of Ireland (SAPPHIRE)

Authors: John Wenger, Jovanna Arndt, Paul Buckley, Stig Hellebust, Eoin McGillicuddy, Ian O’Connor, John Sodeau and Eoin Wilson

Summary: In this research project, the contribution of residential solid fuel burning to ambient levels of wintertime PM2.5 was determined in the towns of Killarney, Enniscorthy and Birr. The results show that the burning of peat, coal and wood for home heating is by far the largest source of PM2.5 air pollution in these locations.

Published: 2020

ISBN: 978-1-84095-905-5

Pages: 60

Filesize: 3,878KB

Format: pdf

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Project Highlights

Watch the SAPPHIRE Project Highlights Video.

Executive Summary

Ireland is seeking to reduce levels of particulate matter with a diameter of less than 2.5 microns (PM2.5) in order to protect human health and the environment. This goal can be achieved by developing and implementing policies that target reductions in the emissions of known sources of pollution. In this research project, the contribution of residential solid fuel burning to ambient levels of wintertime PM2.5 was determined in the towns of Killarney, Enniscorthy and Birr. The results show that the burning of peat, coal and wood for home heating is by far the largest source of PM2.5 air pollution in these locations.

Identifying Pressures

The European Environment Agency has identified air pollution as the single largest environmental health hazard in Europe.  PM2.5 is the pollutant with the greatest impacts on human health, accounting for over 1100 premature deaths each year in Ireland. Detailed information on the composition and sources of PM2.5 is required for establishing policies to reduce emissions and protect public health. Residential solid fuel burning is known to be a significant source of PM2.5 in the main cities of Ireland; however, comparable information is not available for the many small towns across the country. In this project a combination of field measurements and source apportionment modelling was used to investigate the sources of PM2.5 in Killarney, Enniscorthy and Birr. At each location, evening levels of PM2.5 were often an order of magnitude higher than those during the day, and huge spikes in pollution were regularly observed when wind speeds were low. Real-time monitoring of the chemical composition of PM2.5 showed that residential solid fuel burning was the dominant source category, accounting for 72%, 82% and 60% of PM2.5 measured in Killarney, Enniscorthy and Birr, respectively. Using chemical fingerprints of particles generated from the combustion of different solid fuels, it was shown that burning of peat was the dominant source at each location, followed by burning of wood and then coal.

Informing Policy

The research findings show that new measures and policies are urgently needed to reduce harmful emissions from residential solid fuel burning across the country. As peat and wood were found by this study to be major contributors to PM2.5, the introduction of a nationwide smoky coal ban is unlikely to lead to significant air quality improvements in small towns. Measures to reduce emissions from all solid fuels – peat, wood and coal – would be more successful in improving air quality for all urban centres including small towns. Future efforts will need to address how domestic residences are heated in general, rather than attempting to discourage the use of one specific solid fuel.

Developing Solutions

This research clearly showed the benefits of deploying state-of-the-art instrumentation for the real- time monitoring of chemical composition in order to deliver detailed information on the sources of PM2.5. Source receptor modelling is also proven to be effective in identifying and quantifying the sources of air pollution. It is therefore recommended that further investment is made in this area, with efforts focusing on expanding the source apportionment capabilities across the national air quality monitoring network. The information generated by an enhanced network will inform the development of policies that not only are essential for the protection of health and the environment, but also help to mitigate the damage caused by climate change.