EPA reports on 2013 air quality and industrial air emissions

Date released: Oct 22 2014

Two EPA air reports released today:

The 2013 reports show:

  • Ireland’s industrial air emissions comply with international standards
  • Air quality in Ireland compares favourably with other EU countries
  • Ireland continues to enjoy good air quality, relative to other EU member states;
  • Independent spot-checks on air emissions at EPA licensed industrial sites indicate a 96 per cent compliance rate with the specified limits;
  • The majority of odour complaints received by the EPA in 2013 related to 12 sites - the number of sites causing such complaint has reduced year on year; 
  • Five prosecutions were taken by the EPA in 2013 in relation to air emissions from EPA licensed sites;
  • Local air quality is significantly impacted by solid fuel heating (coal/peat), particularly in small towns without a ‘smoky’ coal ban;
  • Road traffic emissions contribute to poor air quality in urban areas;
  • Dioxin levels compare favourably with previous EPA studies and other EU countries.

The EPA report EPA Licensed Sites – 2013 Report on Air Emissions, released today, shows high compliance rates with air pollutant emission limits specified in industrial and waste management licences.  A small number of licensed sites (12) are associated with the majority of odour complaints to the EPA from the general public.  The number of sites causing such complaint has reduced year on year.

A second report released by the EPA, Air Quality in Ireland 2013 – Key Indicators of Ambient Air Quality, indicates that while Ireland’s air quality is currently among the best in Europe, air quality remains at risk from emissions generated from driving, particularly in the larger urban areas, and from the burning of domestic solid fuel for home heating, particularly in small towns and villages not covered by smoky coal bans. 

Commenting on these reports, Gerard O’Leary, Director EPA said,
The enforcement activities of the EPA over the last 20 years have resulted in robust and mature compliance regime for industrial activities, and we are pleased with the high rates of compliance with air emissions limits in 2013.  We need to be vigilant to maintain these compliance levels and to continue to target sites where problems have been identified.

The findings of the report on wider air quality are also very encouraging.   I would urge people, however, to consider air quality when making choices about home heating and transport as both of these activities can have a negative impact on air quality.

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

According to Patrick Kenny, EPA Air Quality Manager:
Ireland met all EU standards for air quality in 2013 but values for particulate matter, polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAH) and ozone were above the World Health Organisation air quality guidelines. To meet these more stringent guidelines in the longer term will require collaboration across a range of policy areas including transport, energy and spatial planning.  The choices we make as consumers about how we heat our homes and travel to work and school will also affect our local air quality.

In addition to monitoring air quality, the EPA is responsible for the environmental licensing and enforcement of more than 800 large industrial and waste management activities in Ireland, including the setting of limits on emissions of various air pollutants from these sites.  Independent monitoring of emissions from these sites indicates that 96 per cent of tests were compliant with the requirements specified in the licences.

Commenting on the air emissions report, Dr Ian Marnane, EPA Senior Inspector said, 
Our report indicates that there is a high level of compliance with the limits specified for emissions to air at EPA licensed sites.  We are pleased to see that, importantly, the rates of compliance are improving year-on-year. Addressing issues at the small number of sites which are giving rise to a significant number of odour complaints is a priority for the EPA.

Complaints from members of the public in relation to odour from EPA licensed sites are the major source of complaints received by the EPA.  In 2013, 877 complaints in relation to odour from licensed sites were received, with 12 individual sites responsible for 697 (80%) of these complaints. Four sites were prosecuted in 2013 in relation to odour nuisance.


Notes to Editor

Importance of air quality
People can check their local air quality on the website.

Good air quality is fundamental to a healthy environment, good public health and to supporting a strong economy. Data from the European Commission indicates that air pollution is the number one environmental contributor to premature deaths in the EU, being associated with more than 400,000 premature deaths in 2010.

Air pollution (and fine particulates/dust in particular) are associated with increased risk of mortality from health issues such as heart attacks, asthma, stroke and diabetes, particularly within vulnerable groups such as those with pre-existing cardiovascular or pulmonary health problems.

Emissions to air from industrial and waste management activities
Large industrial and waste management activities often involve processes which can result in the generation of significant quantities of air pollutants (e.g. combustion of fossil fuels or use of various organic chemicals with a manufacturing process).  EU legislation requires that these types of activities are regulated to ensure that emissions from these activities do not result in any significant environmental impact (including impact on air quality). The EPA is responsible for the regulation of such activities in Ireland and licences in excess of 800 large industrial and waste management facilities.

The EPA carries out an annual programme of spot-checks on emissions to air from emission points (stacks) at EPA licensed sites.  EPA licensed sites include in excess of 1,000 air emission points (stacks) at which the EPA has specified limits for emissions of various pollutants into the atmosphere. In 2013 this monitoring indicated that 660 out of 684 tests completed by the EPA were compliant with the emission standards specified in the licence for the relevant site.

These 24 cases of non-compliance were related to activities at 22 individual licensed sites.   In addition to the EPA’s independent monitoring, licensees are required to report any cases of non-compliance to the EPA, with 32 licensees reporting incidents where their emissions to air were above the limits specified in their licence.

All cases where the standards are not achieved are fully investigated by the EPA to ensure that appropriate follow-up actions are taken by the licensee to prevent reoccurrence.

Complaints from members of the public in relation to odour from industrial and waste management sites are the major source of complaints received by the EPA. In 2013, 877 complaints in relation to odour from licensed sites were received, with 12 individual sites responsible for 697 (80%) of these complaints. 4 sites were prosecuted in 2013 in relation to odour nuisance.

National Ambient Air Quality Network
The Air Quality in Ireland 2013 – Key Indicators of Ambient Air Quality report provides an overview of air quality in Ireland for 2013, 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.

In 2013, 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.

Air Quality Index for Health
The EPA Air Quality Index for Health is a web-based index, developed in conjunction with the Health Service Executive, Met Éireann and the Department of the Environment, Community and Local Government that 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.

Under EU legislation, Ireland is required to reduce exposure to fine particulate matter (PM2.5) by 10% between 2012 and 2020. This 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.