Ireland falls below strict World Health Organisation (WHO) guidelines on air pollution for four potentially harmful emissions.
As a report revealed 12 sites were responsible for 80% of all complaints about smells, watchdogs warned people’s lifestyles may have to change to meet strict international air quality targets.
The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) – which reported that 4% of tests last year failed European pollution standards – said how people warmed their homes and travelled to work or school in future may have to be restricted.
Testing at 29 locations found air quality within EU rules but when the stricter WHO limits were applied, Ireland failed to make the grade for concentrations of four emissions.
It raised concern over levels of the cancer causing particulate matter (PM) and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAH), which are produced by burning solid fuels, and ozone which in high concentrations causes breathing problems, damages lungs and may lead to asthma.
The EPA said local air quality was significantly impacted by using coal or peat in the home and from the amount of traffic in urban areas.
Gerard O’Leary, director of the environmental agency, said 2013 saw higher rates of compliance with emissions limits.
“We need to be vigilant to maintain these compliance levels and to continue to target sites where problems have been identified,” he said.
“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.”
Patrick Kenny, EPA air quality manager, warned about the level of particulate matter, polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAH) and ozone.
“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,” he said.
“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.”
The EPA said the EU may adopt the stricter WHO guidelines after reviewing its air quality directive.
The agency also warned about the levels of nitrogen dioxide in the air in cities which is mainly produced by engines and power plants.
It said: “Ireland must develop and implement policies to reduce travel demand, emphasising sustainable transport modes such as cycling, walking and public transport and improving the efficiency of motorised transport,” it stated.
On the review of air quality, odour and noise, the EPA received 1,088 complaints in total last year with 895 for foul smells.
It also carried out 71 formal EPA investigations and resolved 45 satisfactorily.
The EPA identified 11 sites which accounted for 706 of the complaints, including 139 against the Ballynagran landfill in Wicklow and 130 against the Arrow Group in Naas, Co Kildare.
The EPA also noted that an extensive fire over five days at the end of January at the Oxigen facility in Ballymount, Dublin, had had no significant potential for any long-term health or environmental impacts.