Further action needed to maintain Ireland's good air quality

Date released: Sep 23 2013

  • EPA Report Air Quality in Ireland 2012 – Key Indicators of Ambient Air Quality released today.
  • 2012 air quality monitoring shows:
    • Ireland continues to enjoy good air quality, with no exceedances for the pollutants measured in 2012
    • Air quality in Ireland is good, relative to other EU Member States.
    • However, we face challenges in the near future to conform to the more stringent World Health Organisation guidelines for air quality, which may be adopted in our legislation in the future.
    • Pollutants of concern are particulate matter (PM10 and PM2.5), nitrogen oxides and ozone.
    • Burning of solid fuel and emissions from car exhausts remain the main sources of poor air quality in Ireland.
  • Real-time air quality information for Ireland is available on the EPA website www.airquality.epa.ie

Ireland’s air quality currently is among the best in Europe but maintaining this standard is a growing challenge, according to the EPA’s latest air quality report.  The report, Air Quality In Ireland 2012 – Key Indicators of Ambient Air Quality, released today shows that air quality in Ireland is generally of a high standard across the country, and is among the best in Europe, but particulate matter in our air is of growing concern, especially during the winter months when people’s fuel choices can directly impact on air quality and on our health.

“We’re fortunate in Ireland that our air is generally clean,” says Laura Burke, Director General of the EPA.  “Our prevailing winds come from the Atlantic, we don’t have many large cities, and we have a clean and well-regulated industrial sector.  It would be easy to assume therefore, that we’re broadly in the clear.  We are not.  Our air quality is under threat and especially so during the winter months we are now facing into.  While people have been enduring so much hardship in recent years, one small consolation has always been that at least we live in a country where the environment is in good shape and the air is clean. Unless we make changes, we cannot continue to rely on that.”

Under EU legislation, Ireland is required to reduce exposure to fine particulate matter (PM2.5) by 10% between 2012 and 2020. This challenging reduction, known as the National Exposure Reduction Target, will require an integrated approach across a number of sectors including industrial, transport and residential emissions, but will lead to many health and environmental benefits. In addition, the World Health Organisation has laid down more stringent guidelines for air quality, which may be adopted in our legislation in the future.

According to Barbara O’Leary, EPA Air Quality Manager:

“Ireland currently meets all EU standards for air quality but exceeds WHO air quality guidelines for particulate matter and must continue to implement and enforce the ban on bituminous coal to ensure a good standard of air quality.  Households and businesses should use more efficient methods to burn fuel and shift from solid fuel to cleaner alternatives, while also striving to reduce the demand for energy consumption.”

Levels of nitrogen oxides (NOX) at traffic-impacted city centre areas may also be a challenge in the future. Ireland must reduce traffic emissions through implementing policies to reduce travel demand, increase the use of alternatives to the private car such as cycling, walking, and public transport and improve the efficiencies of motorised transport.

The Air Quality in Ireland 2012 – Key Indicators of Ambient Air Quality report is available in both English and Irish on the EPA website.

The EPA continually monitors air quality across Ireland and provides real-time results on the website at www.airquality.epa.ie. 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.

Notes to Editor:

This report provides an overview of air quality in Ireland for 2012, based on data obtained from the 29 monitoring stations that form the national ambient air quality network. This includes the following pollutants: nitrogen oxides; sulphur dioxide; carbon monoxide; ozone; particulate matter (PM10, PM2.5 and black smoke); benzene and volatile organic compounds; heavy metals; and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons.
The national ambient air quality network is coordinated and managed by the EPA, as the National Reference Laboratory for Air Quality. Monitoring stations are located across the country, with new stations added in 2012 in Balbriggan, Co. Dublin and Mullingar, Co. Westmeath.

In 2012, measured values of sulphur dioxide (SO2), nitrogen dioxide (NO2), carbon monoxide (CO), Ozone (O3), particulate matter (PM10 and PM2.5), heavy metals, polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAH) and benzene were all below limit and target values set out in the CAFE Directive and 4th Daughter Directive. 

The results of the monitoring are compared to limit values set out in EU and Irish legislation on ambient air quality with map-based assessments included.

This year the EPA launched Ireland’s new Air Quality Index for Health http://www.airquality.epa.ie/. This web-based index, developed in conjunction with the Health Service Executive, Met Éireann and the Department of the Environment, Community and Local Government shows what the current air quality is across Ireland. The Air Quality Index for Health is a coloured scale divided into 4 bands: Good; Fair; Poor and Very poor, with health advice provided for each band.  The Twitter feed @EPAAirQuality keeps the public up to date with air quality in their region.