Burning Solid Fuel Biggest Threat To Good Air Quality – EPA

The EPA’s latest report on air quality, released today, shows that burning of solid fuel is the biggest threat to good air quality in Ireland, followed by emissions from vehicle exhausts. Despite monitored air quality being within EU limit values we face challenges in maintaining this position. And, at a number of locations, air quality failed to meet the World Health Organisation (WHO) guideline values for a range of pollutants including fine particulate matter, which pose risks to people’s health. The levels of particulate matter in our air is of growing concern, especially during the winter months when people’s fuel choices can directly impact on our air quality and on our health, particularly in small towns and villages. The predominant source of fine particulate matter is from the burning of solid fuel. Also, in urban areas, we face potential exceedances of nitrogen dioxide limit values unless we reduce our dependence on the private motor car.

In recognition of these challenges to our air quality, the EPA today launched a new national ambient air quality monitoring programme. The programme will significantly increase the availability of localised real-time air quality information to enable the public to make informed decisions and better inform national and regional policymakers. The programme is built around three key pillars:

  • A greatly expanded national monitoring network with 38 new automatic monitoring stations, providing enhanced real-time information to the public.
  • Modelling and forecasting capability, to provide an ongoing air quality forecast to the public.
  • Encouraging greater understanding and involvement of the public in air quality issues utilising citizen engagement and citizen science initiatives.

In launching the new programme, Laura Burke, Director General of the EPA, said,

“Poor air quality is a major public health issue with approximately 1,500 premature deaths in Ireland in 2014 directly attributable to air pollution, mainly due to cardiopulmonary and respiratory health impacts from particulate matter. It has become increasingly clear that there are no safe level of pollutants and with this in mind, it is time to tackle the biggest issue impacting on air quality in Ireland – emissions from solid fuels in our small towns around the country. While the EU has introduced and implemented a range of legal instruments to improve air quality, these standards are still not in line with the tighter WHO air quality guidelines.  The EPA again calls for movement towards the adoption of these stricter guidelines, especially for particulates and ozone, as legal and enforceable standards across Europe and in Ireland.’

According to Patrick Kenny, EPA Air Quality Manager:

“Ireland met all EU legal standards for air quality in 2016 at EPA monitoring stations but values for particulate matter (with the predominant source solid fuel burning), ozone, nitrogen dioxide and sulphur dioxide were above the WHO air quality guidelines at some of these stations. Polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAH), which originate from solid fuel and “back yard” burning were also above the European Environment Agency (EEA) reference level.

A key part of the approach to tackling these issues is better engagement with the public on the topic of air quality. The first step in this process is improved access to air quality data and information. The National Ambient Air Quality Monitoring Programme (AAMP), which is launched today, will significantly improve the availability of localised real-time air quality information to enable the public to make informed decisions and better inform national and regional policymakers.”

The National Ambient Air Quality Monitoring Programme 2017-2022 and the report Air Quality in Ireland 2016 – Key Indicators of Ambient Air Quality are available on the EPA website.

The EPA continually monitors air quality across Ireland and provides the air quality index for health and real-time results on its website. Results are updated hourly on the website, and you can log on at any time to check whether the current air quality in your locality is good, fair or poor.

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