Poor air quality from burning fuels led to 1,100 premature deaths

Poor air quality from the burning of wood, coal and peat for home heating is responsible for more than 1,100 premature deaths in Ireland.

The Environment Protection Agency Air Quality report shows that while our air quality did not exceed legal limits last year, the air quality is still impacting negatively on people’s health.

It found that, while Ireland met all legal standards for air quality in 2017 at EPA monitoring stations, some locations failed to meet stricter World Health Organisation (WHO) air quality guidelines.

The EPA also said that the level of dust in the air is "growing concern".These 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, particularly in small towns and villages.

Director general of the EPA Laura Burke said we can no longer take the expectation that the air we breathe is clean for granted.

“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 'backyard burning' - and by transport at some locations were above the World Health Organisation 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," she said.

The report revealed 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 European Environment Agency has said has the greatest negative impact on the health of the Irish population - leading to 1,100 of a total 1,150 premature deaths in 2015.

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), a pollutant from transport 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," said the report.

EPA Air Quality Manager Patrick Kenny said the choices that households make about how to heat their homes can directly impact 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," he said.

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