33 locations around Ireland exceed international air pollution limits

1,300 people died prematurely in 2019 because of air pollution, according to EPA report
33 locations around Ireland exceed international air pollution limits

Air quality in Ireland is generally good, but some 33 locations exceeded WHO guidelines last year, the EPA has said. Picture: John Giles

Around 1,300 people in Ireland died prematurely last year because of air pollution, while the M50 and Dublin Port Tunnel were highest for harmful vehicle emissions, according to the Environmental Protection Agency. 

While the quality of the air in Ireland is generally good, the EPA said, some 33 monitoring stations across Ireland exceeded the World Health Organisation (WHO) guidelines for air pollution, mostly due to fossil fuels.

The 33 locations exceeded WHO guidelines mostly because of burning of solid fuel in cities, towns and villages, according to the EPA report on air quality.

Ireland was above the European Environment Agency reference level for PAH, a toxic chemical, at four monitoring sites due to the burning of solid fuels, the report added.

Particulate matter from the burning of solid fuel is estimated to cause 1300 premature deaths per year. Particulate matter is said to be all solid and liquid particles suspended in air, such as dust, pollen, soot, smoke, and liquid droplets.

Poor air quality has serious health implications both in the short‐term such as headaches, breathing difficulties eye irritation or cardiac issues; and the long‐term, with illnesses like asthma, reduced liver function, and heart disease.

Dr Ciara McMahon, director of the EPA’s office of radiation protection and environmental monitoring, said: “Ireland is renowned for its countryside and clean fresh air, but we can no longer take this for granted. 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.”

One traffic monitoring location in Dublin city exceeded the levels of nitrogen dioxide (NO2) laid down by the EU, the EPA said. 

Concentrations of NO2 were highest around the M50 motorway in Dublin, certain city centre streets, the entrance/exit of the Dublin Port Tunnel.

The EPA said that monitoring has shown that, in urban areas, the impact of traffic-related nitrogen dioxide pollution is increasing. The report said it will continue "unless we curb our reliance on fossil fuel-powered transport, particularly diesel cars".

NO2 has been called one of the worst pollutants by health and environmental experts, and a major shift in environmental policy in underway in recent years in the entire EU because of NO2 emissions.

The EU diesel emissions scandal in 2015 came about after the German car giant Volkswagen and other firms were found to have inserted so-called "defeat devices" in their vehicles to make it seem like NO2 emissions were lower than what they actually were. Outrage was such that governments moved to eventually ban fossil-fuelled vehicles in the next 20 years.

Dr McMahon said: "We need to decarbonise our public transport system and in general reduce our reliance on diesel and petrol-powered vehicles."

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