Recent trends in air pollution trend in Ireland

Date released: Apr 09 2020

Update: 9th April 2020


Recent trends in air pollution levels in Ireland

Nitrogen dioxide:

The dominant source of the pollutant nitrogen dioxide in our air is traffic. The EPA has carried out an analysis of ambient nitrogen dioxide at its national monitoring stations over recent weeks:

  1. between January, February, March and April to date of this year 
  2. between the same time-period this year and last

There appears to be an emerging trend of decreasing levels of nitrogen dioxide particularly towards the end of March and beginning of April coinciding with the introduction of the restrictions on movement relating to Covid-19.

There was a decrease in concentrations of up to 50% at many monitoring stations across the National Air Quality Monitoring Network. This is not unexpected as we know reduced traffic congestion should decrease the levels of this pollutant.

Particulate Matter:

The domestic use of solid-fuel (coal, peat and wood) is the main contributor to this form of air pollution.  The EPA has carried out an analysis of ambient particulate matter at its national monitoring stations over recent weeks:

  1. between January, February, March and April to date of this year
  2. between the same time-period this year and last

Currently, levels of air pollution in Ireland resulting from solid-fuel burning have not changed due to Covid-19 restrictions and are generally as expected for this time of year.


Statistical analysis

The data reviewed were from 12th March onwards.  This is the date when schools closed, and commuter traffic levels were expected to have started to decrease.

Concentrations of air pollution are highly variable and can change quite substantially from day to day because of the variations in emissions (for example the impacts of commuter traffic, weekdays and weekend days) as well as changes in the weather conditions. This means that it is necessary to assess data for a substantial period-of-time. International guidance recommends using data averaged over a period of about a month to be able to accurately assess if there is a real change from typical levels.

It is now almost four weeks since the first restrictions that substantially changed traffic levels and patterns in Ireland. This means that we have just reached the point of having sufficient daily averages to be able to make a reliable analysis of changes in air pollution due to the restrictions.  As the National Ambient Air Monitoring Network gathers more daily averages, the EPA will continue to keep its assessment under review and provide updates as appropriate on www.epa.ie.

Notes:

  • All our hourly air quality data is on our website
  • Nitrogen dioxide is a pollutant that is emitted in ambient air when petrol or diesel is burned in internal combustion engines.
  • Particulate matter is very small particles which can be solid or liquid. This is the air pollutant with the greatest health impact. In Ireland, the main source of this pollutant is domestic use of solid fuel for heating.
  • The European Environment Agency has developed a viewer that tracks the weekly average concentrations of nitrogen dioxide and particulate matter for member states. Users can select different pollutants, countries and cities. The viewer shows weekly averages for each city.

With regard to Air Quality Policy, which is led by the Department of Communications and Climate Action, the EPA also notes:

  • In relation to improving air quality in Ireland, work is continuing on the National Clean Air Strategy, which will be the first all of government response reducing air pollution and promoting cleaner air. Emissions from the transport sector, including idling, will be considered in the context of the Strategy. Restrictions on car idling, including outside of schools, will be considered as part of this strategy.
  • In tandem with this, the Climate Action Plan includes a number of actions which will also have a significant impact on reducing emissions and improving air quality, including:
    • Putting 180,000 electric vehicles on our roads by 2025 and almost 1m by 2030
    • Ensuring the EV charging network underpins public confidence
    • Decarbonising the public transport fleet
    • Develop a 5-year cycling strategy and roll out 200km of new cycle lanes through bus connects
    • Developing a new Park and Ride Strategy, to reduce congestion and lower journey times
    • Developing a regulatory framework on low emission zones and parking pricing policies, and provide local authorities with the power to restrict access to certain parts of a city or a town to zero emission vehicles only
    • Legislating for no new fossil fuel vehicles to be sold from 2030 onwards.

 

30th March 2020:

The dominant source of the pollutant nitrogen dioxide in our air is traffic. The EPA has carried out an analysis of ambient nitrogen dioxide at its national monitoring stations over recent days:

  1. between the same time period this year and last and
  2. between February and March of this year

Stations in Blanchardstown, St. Johns Road, Winetavern St (Dublin) and Cork South Link Road saw a decrease in nitrogen dioxide levels. Stations at Ringsend, Davitt Rd, Ballyfermot and Dun Laoghaire saw increases in nitrogen dioxide levels. Many other stations showed similar levels between the periods compared. Where there were increases/decreases, the variations were within 20% of baseline levels. This level of variation is not uncommon for weather-related factors.

Notes:

  • All of our hourly air quality data is on our website - nitrogen dioxide is the pollutant of interest from traffic and we know reduced traffic congestion should decrease the levels of this pollutant.

With regard to Air Quality Policy, which is led by the Department of Communications and Climate Action, the EPA also notes:

  • In relation to improving air quality in Ireland, work is continuing on the National Clean Air Strategy, which will be the first all of government response reducing air pollution and promoting cleaner air. Emissions from the transport sector, including idling, will be considered in the context of the Strategy. Restrictions on car idling, including outside of schools, will be considered as part of this strategy.
  • In tandem with this, the Climate Action Plan includes a number of actions which will also have a significant impact on reducing emissions and improving air quality, including:
    • Putting 180,000 electric vehicles on our roads by 2025 and almost 1m by 2030
    • Ensuring the EV charging network underpins public confidence
    • Decarbonising the public transport fleet
    • Develop a 5 year cycling strategy and roll out 200km of new cycle lanes through bus connects
    • Developing a new Park and Ride Strategy, to reduce congestion and lower journey times
    • Developing a regulatory framework on low emission zones and parking pricing policies, and provide local authorities with the power to restrict access to certain parts of a city or a town to zero emission vehicles only
    • Legislating for no new fossil fuel vehicles to be sold from 2030 onwards.