Emissions of Ammonia continue to rise: Ireland's air pollutant emissions on the wrong pathway for cleaner air

Date released: May 07 2019

 

Emissions of Ammonia continue to rise
Ireland’s air pollutant emissions on the wrong pathway for cleaner air

7th May:

  • EPA reports 2017 emission levels for the five main air pollutants. 
  • The figures show that ammonia emissions increased by 2 per cent in 2017.  The trend in increasing ammonia emissions is projected to continue out to 2030. 
  • Emissions of non-methane volatile organic compounds also increased. Ireland is projected to exceed the 2030 emission ceiling for this pollutant. 
  • While emissions of nitrogen oxides decreased in 2017, emissions are projected to be non-compliant with national limits in 2030.  
  • Emissions of two other air pollutants, sulphur dioxide and particulate matter, decreased in 2017. These pollutants are projected to remain compliant with national limits, provided planned measures are implemented.

The EPA today published figures for emissions of five key air pollutants. These pollutants impact environment and health contributing to respiratory problems and pollution of soil, surface water and vegetation. The pollutants are: ammonia, non-methane volatile organic compounds, sulphur dioxide, nitrogen oxides and particulate matter.

This latest information from the EPA shows that ammonia emissions increased by 2 per cent in 2017, which followed a 5 per cent increase in 2016. Agriculture dominates emissions of ammonia which arise from the decomposition of animal manures and the application of fertiliser. This trend in increasing emissions is projected to continue out to 2030.

In addition, emissions of non-methane volatile organic compounds showed an increase in 2017.  These pollutants arise from the food and beverage industry and the storage and handling of animal manures and synthetic fertilisers. Non-methane volatile organic compound emissions are projected to increase slightly to 2030 as the gains from switching to less polluting sources are outweighed by increased economic activity and population growth. Ireland is therefore projected to exceed the more challenging 2030 non-methane volatile organic compounds emission ceiling, despite being in compliance for 2020.
 
Dr Eimear Cotter, Director of Office of Environmental Sustainability said:

“Our figures show that ammonia levels are on an upward trend, in tandem with increased agricultural production, and that they breached national limits in 2016 and 2017.  This has implications for air and water quality.

The National Air Pollution and Control Programme, currently out for public consultation, will need to address these emissions particularly as they are projected to increase further to 2030. The underlying driver for these emissions is the application of more animal manure to soils — mostly as an organic fertiliser — and the increase in the use of inorganic fertilisers. Options to increase efficiencies and reduce fertiliser use will need to implemented at farm level.”

Emissions of other air pollutants – sulphur dioxide, nitrogen oxides and particulate matter – decreased in 2017. This reflects a general downward trend in emissions since 1990 reflecting the impact of fuel switching from coal and peat to natural gas, penetration of renewables and technology improvements. Looking to the future, however, while sulphur dioxide and particulate emissions are projected to remain compliant with substantially lower national limits in 2030, provided planned measures are implemented, this is not envisaged to be the case for nitrogen oxide emissions.  Nitrogen oxide emissions are projected to be non-compliant with national limits in 2030, with the transport sector projected to continue to be a key source of emissions.


Stephen Treacy, EPA Senior Manager said:

“We have seen the positive impact of a range of policy measures and regulatory interventions since 1990 which are particularly evident in declining sulphur dioxide and particulate emissions. Fuel switching and the move to more renewables has brought dividends in terms of cleaner air, with effective regulatory intervention from the EPA also playing a role.

It is important that this good work is not reversed in the context of a growing economy. Further measures are needed to meet national limits in the period from now to 2030, particularly for the pollutants ammonia, nitrogen oxides and non-methane volatile organic compounds”.


For further detail on these figures, see the EPA web published report Ireland’s Air Pollutant Emissions 1990-2030.


Notes to Editor

UNECE Convention on Long-Range Transboundary Air Pollution

The LRTAP Convention of 1979 was the first international treaty to deal with air pollution on a broad regional basis. The 32 signatories to the Convention agreed the principles of international cooperation for air pollution abatement. The number of substances covered by the Convention and its protocols has been gradually extended over time, notably to include ground-level ozone, persistent organic pollutants, heavy metals and particulate matter. Although Ireland hasn’t yet ratified the Gothenburg Protocol setting out national commitments to abate acidification, eutrophication and ground-level ozone, the European Union has, and binding national emission ceilings for Ireland are specified in the EU transposition of the Protocol, the National Emissions Ceiling Directive.

National Emissions Ceiling Directive

Directive (EU) 2016/2284 (replacing 2001/81/EC) ‘on the reduction of national emissions of certain atmospheric pollutants’ sets national emission reduction commitments for Member States and the EU for five important air pollutants: nitrogen oxides, non-methane volatile organic compounds, sulphur dioxide, ammonia and fine particulate matter. The new NEC Directive, which entered into force in December 2016, sets 2020 and 2030 emission reduction commitments for five main air pollutants. It also ensures that the emission ceilings for 2010 set in the earlier directive remain applicable for Member States until the end of 2019.

Five main air pollutants

  • Sulphur Dioxide (SO2) is the major precursor to acid deposition (including “acid rain”), which is associated with the acidification of soils and surface waters and the accelerated corrosion of buildings and monuments. Emissions of SO2 are derived from the sulphur in fossil fuels such as coal and oil used in combustion activities.
  • Nitrogen Oxides (NOx) contribute to acidification of soils and surface waters, tropospheric ozone formation and nitrogen saturation in terrestrial ecosystems.  Nitrogen dioxide (NO2) is also associated with diseases such as diabetes, hypertension, stroke, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) and asthma. Power generation plants and motor vehicles are the principal sources of nitrogen oxides, through high-temperature combustion.
  • Ammonia (NH3) emissions are associated with acid deposition and the formation of secondary particulate matter. The agriculture sector accounts for virtually all (99 per cent) of ammonia emissions in Ireland.
  • Non-methane volatile organic compounds (NMVOCs) are emitted as gases by a wide array of products including paints, paint strippers, glues, cleaning agents and adhesives. They also arise as a product of incomplete combustion of fuels, from the storage and handling of animal manure and fertilisers in agriculture and from spirit production.
  • Fine particulate matter (such as dust) of diameter less than 2.5µm is termed PM2.5. Sources include vehicle exhaust emissions, soil and road surfaces, construction works and industrial emissions and agriculture. Particulate matter can be formed from reactions between different pollutant gases and is responsible for significant negative impacts on human health.

Further information: Niamh Hatchell/ Emily Williamson, EPA Media Relations Office 053-9170770 (24 hours) or media@epa.ie