Your Home, Your Health
We spend the majority of our lives in our homes. Our homes and the choices we make at home influence our health and that of our family and neighbours. Choices such as: the fuel you use, the water you drink, how you manage your waste, the chemicals you use in the home and garden, household ventilation, the noise you create, etc. demonstrate your values and attitudes to your environment and your health. The information in this section will guide you to some ideas to help you make better choices (healthier and more sustainable) for you, and for those you care for. A better future begins at home.
Air Quality & Health
Air pollution in Ireland can be of a local nature, caused by the emission of specific pollutants which either directly, or through chemical reactions and transformations - lead to negative impacts. These negative effects can have an impact on you, your family or your neighbour’s health.
Figure 1 shows a graphical representation on the health impacts to humans of air pollution.
Figure 1 Health impacts of air pollution (source: EEA)
Bituminous (Smoky) Coal
The burning of bituminous coal (sometimes referred to as “smoky coal”) has long been associated with the development of smog especially during winter. Smog, consisting of a variety of chemicals and particulate matter, e.g. smoke, ash has been strongly attributed to the onset of some respiratory illnesses and associated diseases. Particularly vulnerable are those suffering from ailments such as asthma many of whom are children. When burned, bituminous coal releases a considerable range of pollutants into the air including fine particles (measured as 2 levels of particulates - PM2.5 and PM10,) carbon dioxide, carbon monoxide, volatile chemicals such as benzene, sulphur and nitrogen oxides and substances called dioxins and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAH) which are strongly suspected of causing cancer while remaining in the environment for considerable time. Air quality monitoring by the EPA has shown levels of particulate matter (PM10) are higher in areas where poor quality coal is burned in the houses The use of low smoke fuels such as gas, oil and low smoke solid fuels greatly reduce the overall emissions of hazardous substances and so reducing the risks posed to human health. Such fuels can also generate additional benefits in terms of value for money as these products generally generate more heat energy for every € spent.
Air Quality Index
In April 2013, the EPA launched Ireland’s new Air Quality Index for Health (AQIH). This web-based index, developed in conjunction with the Health Service Executive, Met Éireann and the DECLG, shows what the current air quality is across Ireland. The Air Quality Index for Health is a coloured scale of 1 - 10. As shown in Figure 2, the scale is divided into four bands:
- very poor
with health advice provided for each band.
The AQIH is calculated hourly and is represented on a colour coded map of Ireland, from which you can easily assess current air quality in your area. View the Air Quality Index for Health.
The Air Quality Index for Health includes health advice for both the general population and those who are more sensitive to air pollution, for example, people with heart or lung problems.
You can sign up to the Twitter channel and receive tweets on the status of air quality in your region every day.
Figure 2 Air Quality Index for Health
To help protect your good air quality and health the Irish consumer must become more aware of their choice in home heating fuel and the potential impact that choice can have on our air quality. Also to reduce the impact of vehicle emissions in cities, individuals must use more sustainable transport modes such as cycling, walking and public transport.
- Smoky Coal Ban
- Designated Smoky Coal Ban Areas
- Asthma Society of Ireland (ASI)
- CAFÉ (Clean Air For Europe) Directive
- Air Quality 4th Daughter Directive (Directive 2004/107/EC)
- Air Quality in Ireland 2013
- Indoor Air Quality & Health (EPA Research Report)
Carbon Monoxide (also known as CO) is a colourless, odourless poisonous gas and is a common yet preventable cause of death from poisoning worldwide. Approximately half of the deaths from unintentional CO poisonings result from the inhalation of smoke from fires. Other significant causes are vehicle exhausts and deaths in industrial / commercial settings. On average between 1 and 2 people die each year in Ireland from unintentional CO poisoning in the home in incidents related to domestic heating or other fossil fuel installations in the home (i.e. excluding the inhalation of smoke from fires).
Carbon Monoxide has no smell, taste or colour. This is why it is sometimes called the "Silent Killer".
Carbon Monoxide alarms can be used as a backup to provide a warning to householders in the event of a dangerous build up of CO. Check that the Carbon Monoxide alarm complies with the EN 50291 standard. Remember that Carbon Monoxide alarms are no substitute for regular inspection and maintenance of appliances, vents, flues and chimneys.
Visit Carbon Monoxide website to learn more.
Lead in drinking water
Lead is a metal which is found in soil, rocks, air and water. It is used for making batteries, roofing materials, pipes and other plumbing fittings. Lead can be inhaled (breathed in) from air or dust and can be ingested (eaten) in food or water. Lead is highly poisionous if swallowed or inhaled, causing disease of the blood, brain and nervous system. Over the past few decades lead has been removed from petrol and paint, and since then in general people in Ireland have been exposed to very little lead.
Lead in drinking water
Water does not usually contain lead when it leaves a water treatment plant, however it can get into drinking water from lead pipes and other types of lead plumbing such as fittings and solder before it reaches your tap. Houses built before or around the 1970s may contain lead pipes and plumbing. Lead pipes may also have been used outside (e.g. under the garden or footpath) to supply the house. While lead pipes are not typical in homes and buildings built since the 1970s, modern pipes can sometimes be joined with lead solder.
The level of lead in drinking water in a house depends on whether there are lead pipes and plumbing in or supplying the house, the length of the lead pipes, the amount of water used (dishwasher, showers, washing machine) and the softness and temperature of the water.
The Health Service Executive (HSE) have information on the health effects of lead in drinking water in an FAQ available on their website.
The HSE FAQ states that lead can affect the development of a child’s brain leading to problems with learning, behaviour and attention. This risk is greatest for young children, infants and babies in the womb. Lead may harm the kidneys and may contribute to high blood pressure. It has also been linked to cancer. No level of lead in drinking water is now considered to be completely safe. It is best to keep everybody’s exposure to lead, from all sources (drinking, eating, inhaling), as low as possible.
Routine testing for lead in drinking water
Water supplies are tested for lead under the European Union (Drinking Water) Regulations. Houses and buildings served by these supplies are randomly chosen for testing. Your individual property may not have been tested previously.
The water testing results of your water supply are available for you to see. Contact Irish Water for public water supplies. If you are supplied by a group water scheme you should contact your local authority.
The EPA publishes a yearly report with a summary of drinking water results (including lead) from all Irish regulated drinking water supplies.
Testing the drinking water in your home
The HSE EPA Consumer Advice Note gives information on how to check the pipework in your house for lead. If you find lead pipes or lead in your plumbing system, either inside or outside your house, you should have your drinking water tested a number of private and public laboratories offer testing of drinking water.
If you find lead in your drinking water
The best way of dealing with lead in your drinking water is to replace all lead pipes and plumbing. The HSE and EPA Consumer Advice Note gives further advice on the consideration of alternative drinking water sources.Bathing and showering is safe for you and your children, even if the water contains lead higher than legal level.
National approach to lead in drinking water
A National Strategy to reduce public exposure to lead in drinking water has been developed by the Department of Environment, Community and Local Government. It forms a framework for dealing with lead pipework at a national level including in public buildings and for supporting replacement of pipework.
Further details on lead in drinking water are available at
Domestic Waterwater for Single Houses
There are an estimated 500,000 domestic wastewater treatment systems (DWWTS) (i.e., septic tanks and treatment systems) systems in Ireland treating wastewater from houses not connected to a public sewer system.
DWWTS accept wastewater from toilets, showers, sinks, wash hand basins, washing machines and dishwashers. The greater the population of the dwelling, the greater the volume of wastewater produced. On a national scale, a liquid discharge of 210,000 m3 per day or 46 million gallons (equivalent to 84 Olympic swimming pools) is estimated for these systems. There are a number of different pollutants in domestic wastewater, each of which can cause problems for health and/or the environment.
On-site DWWTS can threaten public health and water quality when they fail to operate satisfactorily. When the wastewater is not absorbed by the soil it can form stagnant pools on the ground surface. In such failures, humans can come into direct contact with the wastewater and be exposed to pathogens, e.g. faecal coliforms. Foul odours can also be generated. Typically there are approximately 1 million E. coli bacteria in one litre of effluent from a septic tank serving a normal household. The drinking water standard for E. coli and coliform bacteria is zero.
If properly designed, installed and maintained, your DWWTS (including septic tanks) can provide long term, effective treatment of domestic wastewater. Check out our Animation on how a DWWTS (septic tank or treatment system) works.
If you are concerned about your private well - read leaflet on Is Your Well At Risk from Your Septic Tank or click on infographic for more information.
Did you know that you should have your domestic wastewater treatment system de-sludged on a regular basis?
If you do not maintain your system it may be necessary to replace it, which may cost a lot of money. If not de-sludged, the solids build up in the tank resulting in the wastewater bypassing the tank and causing the percolation area to become blocked. A malfunctioning system can contaminate groundwater and therefore private wells. It may also result in ponding of effluent, which will pose a risk of disease to children and form odours.
Do you know as a homeowner you are responsible under the Water Services Act (as amended) for maintaining your domestic wastewater treatment system?
Owners of DWWTS are required to operate and maintain their systems so that they do not pose a risk to human health or the environment. New legislation was introduced in 2012 outlining the responsibilities of system owners. There are certain things you can do to make sure that your DWWTS (septic tank or treatment system) is working properly - See what you can do.
Septic Tank Inspections
An inspection programme is being rolled out by local authorities to ensure that domestic wastewater treatment systems, are working properly and not posing a risk to human health or the environment. Check out our animation on What to expect from an Inspection. If you fail an inspection under the Water Services (Amendment) Act 2012 you will have to take steps to repair or remediate your DWWTS so that it does not cause a risk to human health or the environment. A grant may be available to assist in fixing the problem identified during the inspection. Advice notes on remediation and replacement of DWWTS are available.
If you have more questions on your DWWTS (septic tank or treatment system) - see our Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) section.
The EPA has published guidance on wastewater treatment and disposal systems for single houses which should be consulted when installing new DWWTS (septic tanks or treatment systems). Click on infographic for more information.
30% of private wells in Ireland are contaminated by E.coli, this is based on an assessment of the national groundwater monitoring programme results and is supported by findings of local spot surveys of private wells. The Central Statistics Office (CSO) census figures indicate that there are approximately 170,000 wells in Ireland and extrapolation would indicate that 50,000 private wells may be contaminated.
According to the Health Service Executive (HSE), Ireland has the highest rate of VTEC (Veritoxigenic E.Coli) in Europe. VTEC is a toxin producing form of E.coli and is a lot more serious than an ordinary tummy bug. The HSE indicates that there is an increasing trend in the number of cases of VTEC in Ireland. Most cases in Ireland so far have affected children (60%) many of whom have been hospitalized.
Figure 1: No. of VTEC cases as reported by the Health Protection Surveillance Centre HPSC
Animals, particularly cattle are the main source of VTEC and infection is spread from direct animal contact or through contaminated food and water. The cases in Ireland are predominantly associated with rural families and private domestic wells; however, visitors from urban areas have also been affected.
What is not generally known is that there is a greater risk of illness associated with private well supplies. People treated for VTEC are four times more likely to have consumed untreated water from private wells. You may have been using your well for years and have had no health problems as you may have built up immunity to the contamination. However, friends, family and children may become ill as a result of consuming your well water.
Many well owners do not seem to be aware of the risks posed to their health from private well water – look at our animation to find out more about the risks. Little consideration has been given to the proper location or construction of private domestic wells (Figure 2). Most wells do not have any form of treatment nor are they regularly tested.
Poorly constructed wells run the risk of surface water ingress either directly over the top of the borehole casing and into the groundwater (if the wellhead is below ground or flush with the ground or in an area liable to flooding) or down the side of the casing (if it has not been properly grouted and sealed after drilling). In such cases, surface water contaminants such as VTEC and Cryptosporidium can travel directly into the water source putting consumers at risk of illness.
Figure 2 a & b: (a) Poorly constructed wellhead with surface water entering the top of the borehole and (b) An example of a sealed and protected wellhead/borehole) (Source: EPA)
What can I do?
By taking the following simple steps you can assess if your well is at risk of contamination and take action to protect your and your family’s health:
- Assess the location, construction and protection of your well. You can do this by using an assessment tool ‘Protect your Well’. It asks a series of questions with multiple choice answers and takes 5-10 minutes to complete. Once completed, it will provide you with advice specific to your well, depending on the answers you provide.
- Test your well water at least once a year for microbiological contamination, preferably after heavy rain, when the risk is highest. A list of testing laboratories that are offering a discount for those wishing to have their water tested. If you are concerned, boil your water while you wait for the results to come back. If the results of testing confirm that contamination is present well owners will need to take steps to protect their well (e.g. fencing the source or preventing surface water from entering the well).
- Seal your wellhead to prevent any contaminated surface water from flowing down over the top of the well and prevent shallow groundwater from entering the well by properly lining and grouting the well; and by ensuring that the groundwater itself is not contaminated by nearby pollution sources. Check out “Advice Note No. 14: Borehole Construction and Wellhead Protection” which sets out the best practice for the design, construction and protection of a drinking water supply borehole.
- Consider treating your well water if these measures are insufficient to prevent contamination (e.g. in karst areas where groundwater is heavily influenced by surface water). Permanent treatment including disinfection as a minimum should be installed, or consider connecting to a group or public water scheme.
- Grants may be available from your local authority if your well is more than seven years old.
Click here to view the Private Well Protection Leaflet for more information on how to protect and maintain your well.
Click here for householder information on Private Wells.
Excessive noise can seriously harm human health and interfere with people’s daily activities at school, at work, at home and during leisure time. It can cause stress, disturb sleep, cause psychophysiological effects, and provoke annoyance responses, and changes in social behaviour.
Various bodies have roles as regards complaints about different types or sources of noise. The main legislation relates to sections 106 to108 of the Environmental Protection Agency Act 1992, which defines environmental pollution as including noise.
You can contact the EPA in the case of an activity for which a licence is required under the EPA (Industrial Emissions) (Licensing) Regulations 2013. The EPA has the power to serve notices in respect of activities that it licenses, such as waste disposal activities, or large industrial facilities such as meat processing, pharmaceutical, and combustion plants etc. The EPA can require the person or body to take specific measures to prevent or limit noise.
Local authorities have similar powers to the EPA to require measures to be taken to prevent or limit noise in relation to premises, processes and works, other than those that require licensing under the EPA Act. The local authority may serve a notice on the person in charge of, for example, pubs, discos, processes or works. This notice requires the person in charge to take whatever measures are set out in the notice in order to prevent or limit noise. The local authority may prosecute for failure to comply with the notice. You can report a noise nuisance to the Environment Section of the relevant local authority.
The Department of the Environment, Community and Local Government publishes information on noise from commercial premises and construction.
For non-commercial noise sources, there are a number of steps open to the public when experiencing nuisance caused by neighbourhood noise. Initially, it may be sufficient to explain to whoever is causing the noise that it is a nuisance and come to some mutually acceptable understanding. If this does not resolve the matter, then a section 108 notice (under the EPA Acts) is designed to allow straightforward access to the Courts by individuals or groups concerned about excessive noise.
Where the court finds in favour of a noise nuisance complaint, the person or body responsible for the noise must reduce it to a specific level, to limit it or cease it altogether. The Guide to the Noise Regulations outlines the steps you can take if you are experiencing a nuisance caused by noise.
The source of a neighbourhood noise complaint most often dictates the way it should be addressed, depending on whether the individual causing the noise nuisance is a private rented tenant, a local authority tenant or a private home-owner.
If the person causing a noise nuisance is a private home owner then the person experiencing the noise nuisance will have to avail of the remedy provided under the Noise Regulations above, seeking a court order to deal with the noise nuisance.
There is no requirement to be represented in Court by a solicitor. Alternatively, a written record which includes dates and times during which the perceived noise nuisance occurred and/or a tape recording of the type of noise experienced, can provide important evidence which can be presented in Court.
Private Rented Tenants
In the case of noise nuisance being caused by individuals in private rented accommodation, the Residential Tenancies Act 2004 imposes minimum statutory obligations on landlords and tenants of private residential tenancies. Tenant obligations include an obligation not to engage, in anti-social behaviour, including persistent noise that interferes with the peaceful occupation of other dwellings in the neighbourhood.
There is provision in the Act for third parties who are adversely affected by a failure on the part of a landlord to enforce tenant obligations to refer a complaint to the Private Residential Tenancies Board (PRTB) in accordance with the procedures in the Act.
Local Authority Tenants
Noise nuisance and other problems caused by local authority tenants are also covered under legislation. The local authority is empowered under Section 62 of the Housing Act 1966, to initiate proceedings to secure an eviction where a tenant has breached the conditions of the tenancy agreement.
Installers of alarm systems are required to have a licence, and they must have to adhere to certain standards, including maximum times for the sounding of external alarms which is typically 15 minutes. The local authority, the EPA or an individual may take action under the EPA Act to deal with breaches of these standards.
Section 25 of the Control of Dogs Act 1986 deals with nuisance by barking dogs. If you don’t get a satisfactory response from the dog owner, you may complain to the District Court, using the form prescribed under the Control of Dogs Act. These forms are available from local authorities.
Transport related noise
The EU Environmental Noise Directive (END), aims to avoid, prevent or reduce, on a prioritised basis, the harmful effects of exposure to environmental noise, mainly from transport noise sources such as road, rail, airports and in agglomerations. Local authorities are required to make action plans to reduce ambient noise. The EPA exercises general supervision over the functions and actions of the local authorities in this aspect of their work.
Radon at a glance
What is radon?
Radon is a radioactive gas that is present in our homes. It has no taste, colour or smell. It is formed in the ground by the radioactive decay of uranium which is present in all rocks and soils.
Why is radon a health risk?
Radon inhalation can cause lung cancer. Radon gas produces tiny radioactive particles. When they are inhaled these particles can be deposited in the airways and result in a radiation dose to the lungs. Over time, this radiation dose can increase your risk of developing lung cancer. There is a multiplier effect between radon and tobacco smoke: this means that smokers are at much greater risk of developing radon related lung cancer than non-smokers.
The World Health Organisation has categorised radon as a carcinogen, in the same group as asbestos and tobacco smoke. In Ireland, up to 250 cases of lung cancer each year are linked to exposure to radon. There is no scientific evidence linking radon with any other types of respiratory illnesses or other cancers.
How likely is my home to have a radon problem?
Buildings in some parts of the country are more likely to have a radon problem. These parts of the country are called High Radon Areas. You can check our interactive map to see whether your home is in a High Radon Area. Even if your home is not in a High Radon Area, we recommend you test your home as elevated radon levels can be found in homes in low risk areas.
How does radon get into a home?
Outside radon is diluted to very low levels. Radon can enter a building from the ground through small cracks in floors and through gaps around pipes or cables. Radon gas can be sucked from the ground into a building because the indoor air pressure is usually slightly lower than outside.
What level of radon is acceptable in my home?
The Reference Level for homes in Ireland is 200 becquerel per cubic metre (Bq/m3). If you test your home for radon and it is above 200 Bq/m3, you should consider reducing the levels. The average radon level in Irish homes is 89 Bq/m3.
How do I test my home for radon?
The only way to know if radon is a problem in your home is by testing your home.
Please watch our animated video to see how easy it is to test your home for radon.
A radon test is carried out by placing two small detectors, about the size of an air freshener, in your home for three months. One detector is placed in a bedroom the other in a living room - the places most occupied by the family. After three months, when the detectors are posted back to the laboratory, they are analysed to see how much radon they have been exposed to.
Once the results are known, a report is issued setting out the average level of radon in your home and if levels are high, advice on what to do next.
Radon levels can vary a lot between buildings so, even if your neighbours have measured radon in their home, you should also have your home tested.
How can I reduce radon levels in a building?
Please watch our animated video to see how easy it is to reduce radon levels in your home.
The main ways to reduce the radon levels in your home are by:
- Improving indoor ventilation
- Installing a radon sump
- Improving under-floor ventilation (for homes with suspended floors)
This work can be carried out by DIY enthusiasts or your local building firm. For more complex situations it may be necessary to consult a contractor who will be able to advise you about the most suitable solution for your home.
When choosing a contractor, you should consider the following:
- Get a few quotes to help ensure you get the best value
- If the contractor gives references try to talk to the referee or see the work for yourself
- Do you know a local builder or contractor that may be able to do the job for you?
Discuss the following issues with the contractor:
- Testing your home following remediation work
- Fan maintenance (for active sumps)
- Costs of running fans (for active sumps)
- Retesting following significant building work on your home
It is important to have your home re-tested after the work has been completed, to ensure that it has been successful in reducing the level in your home to below 200 Bq/m3.
The EPA provides a free re-testing service to homeowners. Please contact us to avail of this.
Increasing indoor and underfloor ventilation can reduce radon levels by typically 50%.
Installing an active radon sump is the most effective method of reducing radon and the most common remediation method in Ireland.
If you would like more information about radon, please read our Frequently Asked Questions.
Your Home in a Healthy ireland
Ireland is facing serious challenges within our society and our health service. Our health and wellbeing is shaped by many things in the world around us – our family, our home and neighborhood, our education and work, our friends and community, in addition to other social, environmental and economic factors.
A fundamental element of achieving improved health outcomes for all of our citizens are the values, behaviors and teachings we experience and impart in our homes. Quite simply, good health begins at home. Good health is influenced by the diet of the household, the source of their food, their exercise levels, attitudes to drinking and smoking, community inclusiveness, and such like.
A healthy nation, where everyone can, to their full potential, enjoy physical and mental health and wellbeing, where wellbeing is valued and supported at every level of society, benefits everyone and is everyone’s responsibility. ‘Healthy Ireland’ is a national Government framework for action to improve the health and wellbeing of the people of Ireland. Its main focus is on prevention and keeping people healthier for longer. Healthy Ireland’s goals are to:
- Increase the proportion of people who are healthy at all stages of life
- Reduce health inequalities
- Protect the public from threats to health and wellbeing
- Create an environment where every individual and sector of society can play their part in achieving a healthy Ireland
Healthy Ireland takes a whole-of-Government and whole-of-society approach to improving health and wellbeing and the quality of people’s lives.