The public are vastly underestimating the impact that home-burning fuels is having on their health, the Irish Heart Foundation has warned.
Sitting in front of an open fire can expose people to similar levels of toxic fumes found in traffic blackspots at rush hour, it said.
An Ipsos MRBI poll has found just one in 10 people consider the burning of smoky fuels, including coal, turf and wet wood in the home to be the leading source of air pollution.
Home fuel burning is having a hugely detrimental impact on the nation’s health – with children, older people and those living with chronic diseases being the worst affectedDr Tim Collins, Irish Heart Foundation
That is despite the fact that the Irish Heart Foundation found those fuels are responsible for the majority of the 1,400 or more deaths linked to air pollution in Ireland each year.
And less than half the population are aware of the health damage that is being caused by emissions which remain in the home after the fuels are used.
Irish Heart Foundation chief executive Dr Tim Collins said: “Home fuel burning is having a hugely detrimental impact on the nation’s health – with children, older people and those living with chronic diseases being the worst affected.
“It’s crucial that the scale of the damage being done is fully understood in the debate on banning smoky fuels.
“The fact is that when you sit in front of an open fire, you’re exposed to similar levels of toxic fumes found in traffic blackspots at rush hour.”
Some 92% of air pollution deaths in Ireland are attributed to microscopic pollutants known as PM2.5, which are mainly associated with the use of smoky fuels.
Heart disease and stroke account for up to 80% of air-pollution caused deaths, but fatalities are also caused by lung cancer, diabetes, kidney disease, liver disease and COPD.
Dr Collins warned that while the majority of air pollution deaths occur in adults, there is now growing evidence to suggest there is also a severe impact on children.
He said: “We have known for some time that children’s hearts, brains, hormone systems and immunity can all be harmed by air pollution.
“Now research is beginning to point towards effects on growth, intelligence, and development of the brain and co-ordination.
“People – parents, grandparents, childminders – need to think of that every time they light the stove or the fire.”
The Irish Heart Foundation and the Asthma Society of Ireland are now calling on the Government to support the public in moving away from the use of home fuels.
Dr Collins said that regardless of Government policy on smoky fuels, it is imperative that the whole country is fully aware of just how dangerous they can be.
He added: “It must be stressed that it’s not enough just to ban smoky coal – the evidence now suggests that peat and wet wood may be just as harmful.
“Therefore, restrictions on these fuels must be part of new regulations.”
According to the survey, 51% of respondents thought that transport was chiefly responsible for the health impact of air pollution in Ireland, while 21% said industry.
Just 11% thought pollution from coal, peat and wood burned in the nation’s homes was responsible.
Just one in five thought heart disease and stroke were the leading causes of death from air pollution, although they account for as many as four out of every five air pollution fatalities.
Dr Collins added that while the Irish Heart Foundation fully supports the proposed restrictions on smoky fuels, it was essential that the new regulations are accompanied by measures ensuring that nobody is left without an affordable means of heating their home safely.