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Poor air quality is prematurely killing over 1,300 in Ireland each year

The EPA’s report for 2019 says action must be taken.

Image: Shutterstock/lensmen

AN ESTIMATED 1,300 people are prematurely dying each year in Ireland due to poor air quality, according to a new report.

The Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) Air Quality report for 2019 has found that air quality in this country is “generally good”, but that there have been a number of occasions and places where levels have exceeded guidelines. 

The main source of the pollutants in the air were vehicle emissions in urban areas and particles from burning solid fuels.

Poor air quality has short-term health implications such as headaches, breathing difficulties and eye irritation and long-term effects including asthma, reduced liver function or cardiovascular disease.

Particulate Matter (PM) was the pollutant most responsible for premature deaths in Ireland, with the report finding that 1,300 deaths were linked to PM. 

PM is made up of very small particles in the air which can be solid or liquid. In Ireland, the primary source of PM is from solid fuel burning for home-heating.

The EPA report has found that 33 monitoring stations across Ireland recorded air pollutants at levels above World Health Organisation (WHO) guidelines. 

Levels are particularly high during the winter months, when elevated use of solid fuels such as coal, turf and wet wood impacts negatively on air quality, especially in towns and villages.

The other main pollutants in the air are nitrogen oxide (NO) and nitrogen dioxide (NO2), both from the burning of petrol and diesel. 

The report found the monitoring station at St Johns Road West near Heuston Station exceeded the EU Air Quality Limit for NO2. The average concentration for 2019 was 43 µg/m3, marginally above the limit of 40 µg/m3.

The EPA says this a result of heavy traffic at the site and that can be observed due to morning and evening peaks of NO2 levels in the air. 

The site exceeding EU limits has been reported to the European Commission and an Air Quality Action Plan for Dublin is to be prepared. 

Impact of Covid-19

Although the EPA report is for 2019, it also contains details of what is described as a “marked” reduction in NO2 levels due to the Covid-19 enforced restrictions. 

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The EPA has charted two different locations in Dublin to show the effect of the lockdown, the previously mentioned St Johns Road West and Pearse Street. 

In both instances, the impact of Covid-19 restrictions is obvious and indeed the easing of restrictions can also be seen to lead to NO2 levels rising again. 

PastedImage-81233 Source: EPA

Speaking upon the publication of the report, Dr Ciara McMahon of the EPA’s Environmental Monitoring office said that action must be taken to ensure that air quality is improved. 

“Ireland is renowned for its countryside and clean fresh air, but we can no longer take this for granted,” McMahon said.

Poor air quality impacts people’s health and quality of life, so it is now time to tackle the two key issues that impact negatively on air quality in Ireland – transport emissions in large urban areas and emissions from burning of solid fuels in our cities, towns and villages. The choices we make affect the levels of pollution in the air we breathe, which in turn affects the health of our lungs, heart and other organs.

“We need to decarbonise our public transport system and in general reduce our reliance on diesel and petrol-powered vehicles. Moving to cleaner ways of heating our homes will also significantly improve air quality across Ireland.” 

About the author:

Rónán Duffy

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