Belfast Telegraph

EPA: Estimated 1,180 premature deaths in Ireland in 2016 due to poor air quality

An Environmental Protection Agency report details air pollutant levels in localities across the country.

The report said domestic use of solid fuel such as coal, peat and wood is having a negative impact on air quality (Julien Behal/PA)
The report said domestic use of solid fuel such as coal, peat and wood is having a negative impact on air quality (Julien Behal/PA)

By Aoife Moore, PA

There were an estimated 1,180 premature deaths in Ireland in 2016 due to poor air quality.

An Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) report, titled Air Quality in Ireland 2018, details air pollutant levels in localities across the country.

“There is a cause for concern, particularly with respect to pollutants such as fine particulate matter (PM2.5),” the report said.

Domestic use of solid fuel such as coal, peat and wood is having a negative impact on our air quality Environmental Protection Agency report

“This pollutant has been highlighted by the EEA as being predominantly responsible for most of the 1,180 estimated premature deaths.

“Domestic use of solid fuel such as coal, peat and wood is having a negative impact on our air quality.

“The use of solid fuel burning for home heating has been identified by EPA‐funded Irish research as the leading contributor to fine particulate matter (PM2.5) concentrations across Ireland.”

The report found that Ireland was above World Health Organisation (WHO) air quality guideline value levels at a number of monitoring sites for fine particulate matter, ozone and nitrogen dioxide (NO2).

Pollutants assessed by the EPA are particulate matter – PM2.5 and PM10, nitrogen oxides (NO2 & NO), sulphur dioxide (SO2), ozone (O3) and carbon monoxide (CO).

Poor air quality has serious health implications both in the short term, manifesting in symptoms such as headache, breathing difficulty or eye irritation and can lead to long‐term chronic – ongoing – conditions such as asthma, reduced liver function or cardiovascular disease, the report said.

According to the report, Ireland’s main source of the more dangerous particulate matter is solid fuel burning for home heating.

“Burning solid fuel in stoves and especially in open fires is an inefficient process – not all the solid fuel is fully burned,” the report said.

“These unburnt particles leave the fireplace or stove by the chimney, or directly into the room they are heating.

“This causes both indoor and outdoor particulate matter air pollution, which is then breathed in and leads to effects on health.

“This direct link between solid fuel burning in Ireland and PM has been established both by EPA monitoring and EPA‐funded research projects such as the SAPPHIRE project and AEROSOURCE project.”

In order to tackle the issue of particulate matter, the report recommends a move towards clean ways of heating homes and improving energy efficiency within properties.

The WHO air quality guideline daily limit value was exceeded at 17 monitoring stations for a total of 103 days, and Ireland was above the European Environment Agency reference level for PAH, a toxic chemical, at three monitoring sites, the report said.

The report added that there are indications that Ireland will exceed EU limit values for NO2 in the near future.

To reduce the impact of NO2, Ireland should implement the transport options in the Government’s Climate Action Plan and individuals should consider their transport choices, the report said.

Another issue flagged by the report which has been a subject of much political discussion in recent months is the ban on bituminous “smoky” coal in some parts of the country.

The ban was brought in for around 80% of the country 30 years ago by then minister Mary Harney and has now caused what Fianna Fail leader Micheal Martin labelled “a clean air apartheid” between areas that are covered by the ban and areas which are not.

The towns of Longford and Bray were used to highlight the impact that solid fuel use has on air quality.

Bray has a ban on the sale and use of bituminous coal and is part of the Gas Network, Longford does not and is not connected to the Gas Network.

From 2013-2018, the WHO air quality guideline for PM2.5 is worse in the smaller town of Longford due to the increased use of solid fuel for home heating.

“This situation is likely to be reflected across many towns in Ireland where solid fuel burning is prominent. Any movement along the spectrum towards ‘less smoky’ will have a subsequent improvement on air quality,” the report said.

PA

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