Briefing note on EPA's Air Quality and Emissions to Air Report 2003

Date released: May 20 2005

The Environmental Protection Agency’s Air Quality and Emissions to Air Report for 2003 provides an overview of ambient air quality in 2003 and air emissions trends between 1990 and 2003.  The Report states that air quality in Ireland complied with the 2003 air quality standards then in force for all pollutants.  However, it cites increasing traffic emissions as a key challenge to Ireland’s ability to comply with more stringent air quality standards in the future.  

Air Quality Summary:

  • Air quality was again good throughout the country in 2003, with monitoring results indicating full compliance with the 2003 air quality standards in force for all pollutants.
  • The Dublin Port Tunnel is expected to reduce the number of heavy goods vehicles passing through the city centre dramatically, thereby decreasing PM10 and NOX emissions in this highly congested area. Further benefits are expected over a wider area as a result of the LUAS light rail system and from improvements in other forms of public transport

Air Emissions Summary:

  • Greenhouse gas emissions were equal to 67.5 million tonnes CO2 equivalent in 2003. Although Ireland’s greenhouse gas emissions have reduced, they are still about 25% above 1990 levels.  This continues to be a major challenge if Ireland is to achieve our Kyoto target for the 2008 – 2012 period, of not more than 13% above 1990 levels; 
  • In 2003, the energy sector (including energy used in transport) accounted for 64.6 percent of total greenhouse gas emissions, Agriculture contributed 27.8 percent while a further 4.4 percent emanated from Industrial Processes, 3 percent was due to Waste and less than 1 percent from solvent and other product use;
  • The 2010 emission ceilings target for ammonia was achieved in 2003, based on current estimates for that year and significant reductions have occurred in the emissions of sulphur dioxide and volatile organic compounds.

Conclusions and Key Challenges:

Air quality

  • PM10 (particulate matter)  - Compliance with new limit values for PM10 will be increasingly challenging, particularly in larger urban areas such as Dublin, Cork and Galway which experience traffic congestion on a regular basis.[1]  Monitoring results show that city centre sites impacted most by traffic, experienced the highest levels of measured PM10 in Ireland.   Future compliance with standards that are more stringent than under the legislation to date will be most challenging in the event of weather conditions that result in poor dispersion of emissions in urban areas.
  • NO2 (nitrogen dioxide) –As in the case of PM10, monitoring results show that city centre sites impacted most by traffic experience the highest levels of NO2 in Ireland and the limit value for annual mean concentrations in force from 2005 may be approached in the worst affected areas.
  • Ozone - When compared with mainland Europe ozone levels in Ireland are normally low.  The hourly population information threshold of 180 µg/m3 was reached on only one occasion in 2003 and 8-hour mean levels greater than the threshold of 110 µg/m3 for effects on human health occurred on 36 days with average values around 125 µg/m3.
  • The threat to air quality is greatest in the larger urban areas, such as Dublin, Cork and Galway, which experience traffic congestion on a regular basis. The monitoring results show that city centre sites impacted most by traffic experience the highest levels of measured PM10 and Nitrogen Dioxide in Ireland. Air quality management in such areas will therefore depend largely on the effectiveness of traffic management measures and on the degree to which further growth in road traffic can be curtailed in cities. 
  • Although the emissions from individual vehicles will continue to fall as a result of technological advancements and cleaner fuel, improvements in the case of NOX have to date been largely offset by the significant increase in the number of vehicles on the road.  Whereas reductions will result from projects such as the Dublin Port Tunnel  – which should reduce traffic in the city centre, such major projects will serve only to relocate the main sources of emissions unless there is a very substantial reduction in vehicle numbers.

Greenhouse Gases

The reductions of greenhouse gas emissions in 2003 largely reflect fuel switching in electricity generation, reductions in cattle populations and in fertilizer use and the closure of Ireland’s ammonia and nitric acid plants in 2002. Emission control measures set down in the Government’s National Climate Change Strategy of 2000, including carbon taxation and emissions trading, were forecast to allow Ireland to meet its Kyoto obligations. The Government’s recent decision not to introduce a carbon tax means that alternative measures will have to be implemented by way of amendment to the 2000 strategy.

Other Emissions

Extensive technological controls need to be examined for the major stationary combustion sources of NOX. Road traffic also continues to be the major contributor of NOX emissions and decreases from this sector are only slowly becoming evident. 

Potential sulphur dioxide emissions reductions through the use of natural gas and low-sulphur fuel oil are now limited, which means that expensive technology-based controls such as flue-gas desulphurisation must be considered.

A national emissions strategy to comply with the national emissions ceilings, focussing in particular on NOX and VOC, needs to integrate fully with the revised National Climate Change Strategy, transport policy and the various provisions of integrated pollution prevention and control that impact on emissions to air.

 [1] PM10 comprises mainly dust, dirt, soot, smoke and liquid droplets arising from traffic, construction sites and some natural sources