Air quality in Ireland is generally good however there are localised issues due to the burning of smoky fuel or emissions from transport in dense urban areas.
Air pollution is a major environmental risk to health. According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), air pollution can increase the risk of stroke, heart disease, lung cancer, and both chronic and acute respiratory diseases, including asthma. The World Health Organisation estimates that more than 400,000 premature deaths are attributable to poor air quality in Europe annually. In Ireland, the number of premature deaths attributable to air pollution is estimated at 1,300 people (Air Quality in Europe 2020, EEA) and is mainly due to cardiovascular disease. The WHO has described air pollution as the ‘single biggest environmental health risk’.
The ambient air quality pollutants of most concern on an EU-wide level are Nitrogen Dioxide (NO2), Particulate Matter (PM), Ozone (O3) and Polycyclic Aromatic Hydrocarbons (PAHs). They can impact on human health, ecosystems and vegetation and monitoring is carried out to determine their concentration levels.
Tropospheric, or ground level ozone, is not emitted directly into the air, but is created by chemical reactions between oxides of nitrogen (NOx) and volatile organic compounds (VOC). This happens when pollutants emitted by cars, power plants, industrial boilers, refineries, chemical plants, and other sources chemically react in the presence of sunlight.
Sunshine and heat help ozone to form, so ozone pollution is most likely to be a problem on warm, sunny days.
Another unusual thing about ozone is that it reacts with nitric oxide (NO) which is usually found in towns and cities near roads. As a result, ozone pollution is more of a problem in the countryside than in our cities.
The main source of Sulphur Dioxide in Ireland is burning coal and oil to heat homes and industries and to produce electricity.
It is an irritant gas which attacks the throat and lungs. Prolonged exposure can lead to increases in respiratory illnesses like chronic bronchitis. It contributes to the formation of acid rain, which damages vegetation and buildings.
Levels in Ireland are low to moderate. Overall levels have decreased over recent years due to increased use of low-sulphur "smokeless" coal, increased use of natural gas instead of solid fuels and reduced industrial emissions through IPC licensing.
The main source of Carbon Monoxide in Ireland is traffic. It is absorbed into the bloodstream more readily than oxygen, so the relatively small quantities in inhaled air can have harmful effects.
Prolonged exposure can cause tissue damage and individuals suffering from cardiovascular disease are particularly at risk. Levels in Ireland are low.
The Medium Combustion Plant Regulations were signed into law in December 2017. Their purpose is to limit emissions to atmosphere from boilers and other stationary combustion plants in the 1-50 MWth (thermal input) range. It covers all fuel types. The Regulations transpose the Medium Combustion Plant (MCP) Directive ((EU) 2015/2193) which was adopted in 2015.
The regulations limit the level of emissions allowable from new combustion plants from 20th December 2018, while operators of existing MCPs will have longer to comply with stricter emission standards. This will assist in limiting the impact on human health, vegetation and biodiversity which can be caused by air pollution.
Please send any additional queries to firstname.lastname@example.org using the subject heading ‘Medium Combustion Plant’.
Monitoring of emissions to atmosphere
The European Union (Medium Combustion Plants) Regulations 2017 require that periodic monitoring of emissions to atmosphere from medium combustion plants is carried out. Air emissions sampling and analysis is a particularly difficult aspect of environmental monitoring, and specialist equipment is required to be used. Both the sampling and analysis stages of air emissions monitoring require a high level of competency and quality control. Most MCP facilities will not carry out their own air emissions monitoring, but will instead employ a specialist contractor to carry out the monitoring and provide a report, which can be submitted to the EPA. The EPA generally supports the approach of using external specialist service providers, and would not recommend that facilities attempt to carry out their own air emissions monitoring.
In order to ensure the generation of consistent, high quality and robust monitoring data from MCP facilities, it is a mandatory requirement that all air emissions monitoring carried out is performed by an ISO 17025 accredited air monitoring contractor. Accredited air emission monitoring contractors operating in Ireland either receive their accreditation from the Irish National Accreditation Board (INAB), or else they operate under the United Kingdom Accreditation Service (UKAS).
The details of the INAB ISO 17025 accredited air emissions monitoring contractors are as follows:
The Irish-based contractors who hold UKAS ISO17025 accreditation for air emissions monitoring are as follows:
You must ensure that the air monitoring contractor you intend to use for EPA compliance monitoring holds ISO17025 accreditation. The EPA will not accept monitoring results from a monitoring contractor, who does not hold accreditation to the ISO17025 standard.
Anyone operating or planning to operate an MCP should ensure that they understand the obligations of the Regulations, in particular, the applicable ELVs. Pay attention to the associated footnotes, and the various exemptions and derogations that may be applicable.
Operators planning to buy or install new MCP should ensure that new plants are specified to meet the ‘new plant’ ELVs set out in Schedule 2 Part 2 of the Regulations.
Operators of existing MCPs should monitor SO2, NOx, dust and CO emissions to determine whether specific measures will be required to achieve compliance. These operators have until January 2025 (5- 50 MWth) or January 2030 (1 – 5 MWth) to achieve compliance.
There is a range of exemptions, derogations, and variations from the default limit values, which are set out in Regulations 11, 12 and 13, and in the footnotes in Schedule 2.
The regulations make special provision for MCP such as emergency generators, which operate intermittently or rarely. Where these MCP operate less than 500 hours per year (as a rolling average over 5 years), they are exempt from some of the specified ELVs but there is still a requirement [Schedule 3, Part 1] to measure carbon monoxide. Where necessary, for environmental protection, the regulations allow the EPA to reduce this number of hours in specific circumstances for specific plant (similar to the provisions for reducing ELVs). [See Regulations 13(1), 13(3) and 20(4)(c)].