Air quality a burning issue

THE large amount of smoke rising from chimneys since the onset of winter tells us that traditional fuels such as coal, wood and, to a lesser extent, turf, still keep the home fires burning.

There are clear signs of urban smog, which can be felt if you are out walking on calm, windless days.

But, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is urging the use of smokeless fuels as much as possible and is also asking for simple measures when heating homes this winter.

Such steps will minimise the impact of home heating on air quality and on people’s health. Pollution from poor home heating practices, such as burning unseasoned timber or waste, can have a significant impact on air quality, according to Dr Ian Marnane of the EPA’s Office of Environmental Enforcement.

All of which could have negative effects on the health of sensitive groups such as children, the elderly and people with existing health problems. The cleanest and most energy-efficient means of heating a home is with a gas boiler or an oil boiler, though open fires and stoves are still a popular means of home heating in Ireland, says the EPA.

To protect air quality, many areas now have a ban on the sale and use of smoky coal and residents in these areas are obliged to burn only smokeless fuels. Residents in other locations outside these ban areas are also asked to use smokeless coal to minimise their impact on the local environment. There is a range of smokeless, solid fuel products on the market, which are cleaner and which deliver improved air quality and human health benefits.

Dr Marnane added: “Waste should be disposed of properly and not burned in an open fire or solid fuel stove. Burning waste is illegal, as burning materials such as plastics and magazines results in harmful toxic pollutants which can impact on air quality both within your house and in your immediate neighbourhood. Apart from the potential air quality and health effects, burning waste can also result in damage to stoves and chimneys.”

He also reminded householders to think of insulating their homes. Grants are available from the Sustainable Energy Authority of Ireland for various energy efficiency improvements.

The EPA’s most recent air quality report showed that air here is generally of a high standard, but particles in the air are causing growing concern, especially during the winter months. The EPA continually monitors air quality across Ireland and people can log on to, to check whether the current air quality in their locality is good, fair or poor.


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