Ireland failed to meet health-based air quality guidelines in 2021

By June Shannon Policy News   |   26th Sep 2022

Concerning localised issues are impacting negatively on the air we breathe – EPA.

Ireland did not meet the health-based World Health Organization (WHO) air quality guidelines in 2021 the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has said.

Published recently the EPA’s annual air quality report Air Quality in Ireland 2021 revealed that while Ireland met EU legal air quality limits in 2021 it did not meet the new health based WHO air quality guidelines for a number of pollutants including: particulate matter (PM), nitrogen Dioxide (N02), sulphur dioxide (SO2) and ozone (O3) due to the burning of solid fuel in our towns and villages and traffic in our cities.

Particulate Matter (PM) is a collective name for fine solid or liquid particles added to the atmosphere by processes at the earth’s surface. Particulate matter includes dust, smoke, soot, pollen and soil particles.

Burning smoky fuel at home results in the release of microscopic pollutants known as PM2.5 into the air and these are responsible for an estimated 92 per cent of air pollution deaths in Ireland. Heart disease and stroke account for 80 per cent of all deaths from air pollution here, but people also die from lung cancer, COPD and kidney disease as a result of air pollution.

Poor air quality has a negative impact on people’s health and there are an estimated 1,300 premature deaths in Ireland per year due to particulate matter in the air. Air monitoring results in 2021 from EPA stations across Ireland show that fine particulate matter (PM2.5), mainly from burning solid fuel in our homes, and nitrogen dioxide (NO2) mainly from road traffic, remain the main threats to good air quality.

Launching the report recently  Dr Micheál Lehane, Director of the EPA’s Office of Radiation Protection and Environmental Monitoring, said, “The EPA’s air quality monitoring carried out in 2021 has shown that Ireland met all of its EU legal requirements in 2021. However, we would not have met the new WHO air quality guidelines for health. Meeting the new WHO guidelines for air quality will be a major challenge for the country, however the report identifies a number of solutions to move towards these guideline levels’’.

" This latest EPA report, unfortunately, shows little to no progress in Ireland improving its level of air quality."

Mark Murphy. Advocacy Officer, The Irish Heart Foundation

Pat Byrne, EPA Programme Manager, said, ‘’Air quality in Ireland is generally good, however, there are localised issues that are impacting negatively on-air quality and our health. In our towns and villages monitoring identifies high levels of particulate matter associated with burning solid fuels and in our larger cities high levels of nitrogen dioxide is associated with road traffic. There are options and solutions to help improve the air we breathe. Changes we make to how we heat our homes and finding alternative ways to travel can immediately impact our local air quality’’.

Commenting Mark Murphy advocacy officer with the Irish Heart Foundation said,  ‘This latest EPA report, unfortunately, shows little to no progress in Ireland improving its level of air quality. Tragically, slow inaction on implementing stronger air quality standards means that 1,300 lives continue to be lost every year due to dirty air, predominantly due to cardiovascular disease arising from pollutant Particulate Matter (PM) from the burning of solid fuels at home. While the incoming Solid Fuel Regulations will reduce the use of some of the most health-harming fuels on the market, much more needs to be done for Ireland to move away from these solid fuels toward cleaner, more sustainable forms of heating.

Moreover, unhealthy levels of nitrogen dioxide continue to clog our major cities due to heavy traffic and our over-reliance on private motor vehicles. To clean our air for the benefit of public and environmental health, Ireland must urgently adopt the WHO air quality guidelines, as recommended by the EPA. Furthermore, beyond this winter, an urgent shift in our housing stock to cleaner forms of heating is needed while a radical modal shift is required away from private vehicles towards walking, wheeling, cycling, and public transport.”


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