Poisonous air across Northern Ireland is contributing to illness and early death for many people, it has been claimed.
The stark warning comes as an investigation into air quality in Belfast revealed “dangerously high” levels of pollutants.
Levels of nitrogen dioxide (NO2) were so high in some areas that it breached legal limits at 30 sites across the city.
An environmental group monitored levels of NO2 for several weeks, providing a snapshot of NO2 pollution.
NO2 is a toxic gas which inflames the lining of the lungs.
The results found levels of NO2 pollution breaching legal limits at 30 sites across Belfast and North Down.
The group claimed that particularly high readings were recorded outside the Royal Victoria Hospital and at the Belfast Metropolitan College Millfield Campus.
The legal annual limit for NO2 is 40 micrograms per cubic metre, however there are no safe levels of exposure to air pollution.
The air quality samples were collected using diffusion tubes situated at over 100 sites then processed and analysed by a laboratory.
The Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs (Daera) test air quality at 18 sites across Northern Ireland with nine in the greater Belfast area.
Green Party leader Clare Bailey warned that polluted, poisonous air across towns and cities in Northern Ireland is contributing to illness and early death for many people.
She said: “This is an important study alerting us to an air pollution emergency across Belfast and beyond.
“Clean air is a human right, but many of us are breathing in heavily polluted and poisonous air each and every day.
“Air pollution is often invisible, with residents in heavily polluted areas not realising the extent of the problem and the resulting health impacts.
“Some of the most concerning levels of NO2 were recorded across inner city working class communities, with heavy traffic prevalent.
“The scientific evidence on the effects of air pollution is well documented and mounting.”
Respiratory symptoms, asthma prevalence and certain types of cancer can all be attributed to air pollution.
New studies have linked the problem with dementia and complications during pregnancy.
“Urgent action is required to address this public health emergency,” Ms Bailey added.
“NO2 pollution is closely linked with vehicle emissions, particularly diesel engines. A green transport strategy aimed at reducing the number of vehicles on our roads and increasing access to public transport is long overdue.
“The Department must also commit to increased air quality monitoring. Eighteen testing sites across Northern Ireland is inadequate.
“Communities are suffering from the poisonous effects of air pollution often without realising the harmful effects of the air they are breathing.
“I also want to see the introduction of a Clean Air Act which enshrines clean air as a human right and updates the legislation for modern fuels and technologies to reduce harmful air emissions and protect human health and the environment.”