Environmental Protection Agency calls for nationwide ban on burning of solid fuel

Director of the EPA's office on environmental monitoring, Dr Ciara McMahon said that particulate matter from solid fuel was leading to 1,300 deaths per year in Ireland.
Environmental Protection Agency calls for nationwide ban on burning of solid fuel

Director of the EPA's Office on environmental monitoring, Dr Ciara McMahon: "Open fires lead to very large levels of these particles getting directly into the air in our living room and also into the air in our environment." Pcture: File Picture

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is calling for a nationwide ban on the burning of solid fuel in its annual air quality report.

Director of the EPA's office on environmental monitoring, Dr Ciara McMahon said that particulate matter from solid fuel was leading to 1,300 deaths per year in Ireland.

Speaking on Morning Ireland, Dr McMahon said that these very fine particles can "lodge in lungs, get into the bloodstream and cause harm to lungs, heart and organs throughout the body."

Dr McMahon explained that the EPA now monitors levels of particulate matter in 84 locations around the country and in 33 points there was an "exceedance" of acceptable levels according to WHO guidelines.

She said: "In Dublin exceedance comes from traffic, but in towns and villages it comes from particulate matter caused by burning solid fuel – peat, wood, coal. 

"The level of particulate matter depends on the quality of the fuel and that way in which they are burned.

“Open fires lead to very large levels of these particles getting directly into the air in our living room and also into the air in our environment. 

That's we see it so much in towns and villages because you've got an accumulation of what's coming out of everybody's house. 

With the 84 locations the EPA now monitors, Dr McMahon said they were starting to see more and more problems. 

“In areas where we didn't know there were problems before because there wasn't this continuous monitoring, it's live, we can see hour by hour what's happening.” 

She said the EPA has noticed a particular elevation of levels on winter evenings between 5pm and 6pm as people start to light fires.

“What we need to consider as a country, is to look at the feasibility of not just banning smoky coal in urban areas, but also all smoky fuels, that would be all solid fuels which emit particles above a certain level.” 

Dr McMahon said that the ban on smoky fuels introduced in Dublin 1990 had been very effective - saving over 10,000 lives in that period. 

“A national ban would be the easiest to implement,” she added. 

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