Ireland’s air quality facing pollution challenges from solid fuel burning and transport emissions

Date released: Nov 27 2018

  
Ireland’s air quality facing pollution challenges from solid fuel burning and transport emissions

  • The number of monitoring stations providing real-time air quality information to the public via the EPA website will have more than doubled in 2018 (from 19 in 2017 to 45).
  • Air quality monitoring results in 2017 showed that burning of solid fuel and emissions from transport remain the main threats to good air quality in Ireland.
  • 1,150 premature deaths in Ireland are directly attributable to poor air quality, according to European Environment Agency estimates.  This is mainly due to fine particulate matter levels from solid fuel burning
  • We all have a role in play in improving the quality of the air we breathe. Our home heating and transport choices directly influence the level of pollution in the air around us. This pollution affects people’s health and life expectancy.

27 November 2018: The Environmental Protection Agency annual Air Quality report, released today, shows that while Ireland’s air quality did not exceed legal limit values in 2017, Ireland’s air quality is impacting negatively on people’s health. Levels of particulate matter – dust - in our air is of growing concern.  Levels are particularly high during the winter months when people’s use of solid fuels such as coal, peat and wood impacts on air quality and on health, especially in small towns and villages. In urban areas, transport related emissions of nitrogen dioxide are close to the EU limit. The report also shows that Ireland is above the health-related and tighter World Health Organization and European Environment Agency guideline values.

In launching the report, Air Quality in Ireland 2017 – Key Indicators of Ambient Air Quality, Laura Burke, Director General of the EPA, said,

“We all expect that the air we breathe is clean but we cannot take this for granted. It is now time to tackle the two key issues impacting negatively on air quality in Ireland – transport emissions in large urban areas and emissions from solid fuel burning across the country.

While Ireland met all legal standards for air quality in 2017 at EPA monitoring stations, the levels of air pollution caused by burning solid fuel – including “back yard burning” - and by transport at some locations were above the World Health Organization air quality guidelines. The choices we all make as individuals affect the levels of pollution in the air we breathe which have an impact on people’s health and life expectancy”


Speaking at a National Air Event in Kilkenny last week, organised by the EPA, Francois Wakenhut from the European Commission’s Clean Air Unit clearly outlined the health impacts of air pollution in Ireland.  He cited the European Environment Agency estimate of premature deaths occurring in Ireland each year due to fine particulate matter.

Mr Wakenhut said,

“There is an increasing awareness of the urgencies of air quality; people demand from government that we do more to deliver clean air. The European Environment Agency have estimated 1,150 premature deaths in Ireland are directly attributable to poor air quality, that is too many for Ireland and demands action”.

According to Patrick Kenny, EPA Air Quality Manager:

“The choices that each of us makes about how we heat our homes, dispose of our waste and travel to work and school can directly impact on our local air quality. Providing more localised, real-time air quality information will help people to be better informed when making these choices and will provide a better picture of what is impacting on our air quality. The National Ambient Air Quality Monitoring Programme, managed by the EPA, is on track to deliver 16 new monitoring stations and upgrade 10 existing monitoring stations to real-time monitoring by the end of 2018.”

The report Air Quality in Ireland 2017 – Key Indicators of Ambient Air Quality is available on the EPA website. An infographic is also available: Heating your home and its impact on air quality and health - Infographic of ‘spectrum’ of home heating choices and impact on air quality and health.

The EPA continually monitors air quality across Ireland and provides the air quality index for health and real-time results on the website at http://www.epa.ie/air/quality/. 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.

Further information: Emily Williamson/Annette Cahalane, EPA Media Relations Office: 053-91 70770 (24 hours) and media@epa.ie

Notes to Editor:

Ireland did not exceed any legal EU limit values for ambient air quality monitored at any of our air quality network monitoring stations. However:

  • Nitrogen dioxide (NO2) values were close to the EU limit in urban areas.  This is due largely to our reliance on fossil-fuelled motor vehicles for transport.
  • The tighter World Health Organization air quality guideline values were exceeded at a number of monitoring sites for the following pollutants: particulate matter (PM10 and PM2.5), ozone and nitrogen dioxide (NO2).
  • Concentrations of carcinogenic polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons were above European Environment Agency reference levels.

 

Key findings

Air quality in Ireland 2017
  • No levels above the EU legislative limit values at monitoring sites in Ireland in 2017.
  • World Health Organisation (WHO) air quality guidelines values were exceeded at a number of monitoring sites for fine particulate matter, ozone and nitrogen dioxide.
  • The European Environment Agency reference level for polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbon (PAH) was exceeded at 4 monitoring sites.
Problem pollutants
  • Particulate matter from solid fuel burning remains the greatest threat to good air quality in Ireland.
  • This is closely followed by nitrogen dioxide from transport emissions in our urban areas.
What should be done?
  • Tackling air pollution from solid fuel starts with consumers making informed decisions about how they heat their homes, with any movement towards cleaner methods being beneficial for our air quality.
  • Air pollution from transport can be reduced by reducing the number of journeys made using diesel and petrol vehicles.

National Ambient Air QualityMonitoring Programme (AAMP)

  • The 5-year National Ambient Air Monitoring Programme was launched in November 2017.
  • The first year of the AAMP is on track to expand the National Monitoring Network by 16 new stations in 2018, as well as upgrades to 10 existing stations to real-time particulate monitoring.
  • This will more than double the number of stations giving real-time informaiton.



 Executive summary

  • Air monitoring data from 29 stations in the National Ambient Air Quality Monitoring Network was assessed against EU legislative limits and target values for the protection of human health and vegetation
  • No levels above the EU legislative limit values were recorded at any of the ambient air quality network monitoring sites in Ireland in 2017
  • Air monitoring data was also compared to the much more stringent World Health Organization (WHO) guideline values and EEA estimated reference level
  • The tighter World Health Organization (WHO) air quality guideline values were exceeded at a number of monitoring sites for particulate matter (PM10 and PM2.5), ozone and NO2:
    • the PM10 24hr guideline was exceeded at 11 monitoring sites
    • the PM2.5 24hr guideline was exceeded at 9 monitoring sites and the annual guideline at 1 monitoring site
    • the ozone guideline was exceeded at 9 monitoring sites
    • the NO2 1hr guideline was exceeded at 1 monitoring site
  • The European Environment Agency reference level for Polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbon (PAH) was exceeded at 4 monitoring sites.
  • The 2017 dioxin survey shows that concentrations of dioxins and similar pollutants remain at a consistently low level in the Irish environment.
  • The 2017 data show that burning of solid fuel is the biggest threat to good air quality in Ireland, followed by emissions from vehicle exhausts.
  • The National Ambient Air Quality Monitoring Programme (AAMP) is on track to expand the National Monitoring Network by 16 new stations in 2018, with upgrades to 10 existing stations to real-time particulate monitoring. This will result in more than doubling the number of stations providing accessible real-time air quality information compared to 2017.

This report provides an overview of air quality in Ireland for 2017, based on data obtained from the 29 monitoring stations that formed the National Ambient Air Quality Network in 2017.

To provide more accessible local air quality information to the public the EPA commenced the rollout of the new AAMP in 2017. The programme is on track to deliver 16 new monitoring sites and upgrade 10 existing monitoring stations to provide real-time PM monitoring by the end of 2018. Real-time data from these sites is being made available on the EPA’s website as the new equipment is commissioned.

The levels of sulphur dioxide (SO2), nitrogen dioxide (NO2), carbon monoxide (CO), Ozone (O3), particulate matter (PM10 and PM2.5), heavy metals, benzene and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAH) measured in air during 2017 have been compared to limit values set out in EU and Irish legislation for ambient air quality. Overall, air quality in Ireland compared favourably with other EU Member States and all the parameters were below the EU limit and target values. However, when compared to the tighter WHO Air Quality Guideline values, it highlights some potential issues. Ireland exceeded the WHO guideline values in 2017 for the pollutants PM10, PM2.5, O3, NO2 and PAH (European Environment Agency (EEA) reference level used for PAH). These guideline values were developed based on the latest understanding of health effects of air pollution and its impact on populations.

The data presented in this report show that air quality in Ireland is consistently above the WHO Air Quality Guideline value for fine particulate matter (PM2.5). This is the pollutant that the EEA has highlighted as having the greatest negative impact on the health of the Irish population, responsible for 1,100 of a total 1,150 premature deaths in 2015 (EEA 2018). The predominant source of these fine particulates arises from the use of solid fuels such as wood, coal and peat for home heating.

We are also approaching the EU limit value for nitrogen dioxide (NO2), from traffic emissions, in our urban areas, with the potential for future exceedances if we experience weather conditions that are unfavourable to dispersion of air pollution for any extended period.

PAHs (using benzo(a)pyrene (BAP) as a marker) are a problem pollutant across Europe, and Ireland is no exception. The dominant source of ambient air emissions of PAH in Ireland again is solid fuel burning in the residential sector. A reduction in PAH will also follow a reduction in PM2.5 concentrations in Irish ambient air.

Ireland was also above the WHO guideline values for ozone in 2017. It is challenging for individual member states to reduce ozone levels due to the large contributions from naturally formed ozone and transboundary ozone from other countries and regions. This transboundary pollution reaches Ireland when certain weather conditions carry polluted air masses from the major cities of western Europe. Combatting ozone pollution will take a Europe-wide commitment to reducing the pollutants that lead to ground-level ozone formation.