Only one in ten people are aware of the serious health risks associated with burning smoky fuels — although they cause the majority of the 1,400 deaths linked to air pollution in Ireland.
The Irish Heart Foundation and Asthma Society of Ireland are now calling on the Government to provide support for householders to move away from these fuels including peat and wet wood as part of proposed restrictions.
Ninety-two per cent of all air pollution-related deaths in Ireland have been linked to microscopic pollutants known as PM2.5 which are mainly produced by domestic fuel burning.
They can trigger a range of diseases including asthma and heart disease but have also been linked to infertility and dementia.
However, an Ipsos MRBI poll for both organisations found only a tiny number of people understand these risks.
Irish Heart Foundation CEO Dr Tim Collins said: “It’s crucial that the scale of the damage being done is fully understood in the debate on banning smoky fuels.
“The fact is that when you sit in front of an open fire, you’re exposed to similar levels of toxic fumes found in traffic blackspots at rush hour.”
The survey found less than half of those surveyed know that health damage is also caused by emissions which remain in the home. Up to 40% of emissions from open fires stay in the home, according to previous work from the Environmental Protection Agency.
Both bodies want Government messaging to focus on health risks from smoky fuels as the survey found people blame transport and industry for pollution.
They called for practical measures including boosting the fuel allowance to support people making a fuel switch.
“Enabling every household in the country to move away from dangerous solid fuel burning must be made a national health priority.
“It should be accompanied by a concerted information campaign to explain the health risks so those who can make the switch as soon as they possibly can,” Dr Collins said.
Evidence for a negative impact on children from air pollution is growing, he said.
One in ten children and one in 13 adults develop asthma in Ireland, one of the highest rates in the world, according to Asthma Society of Ireland.
Interim CEO Emily Blennerhassett said: “Air pollution has been proven to cause asthma in children, specifically NO2 [nitrogen dioxide] which is most commonly sourced from traffic emissions and emission from coal-burning.”
She said an estimated four million new cases of asthma in young children globally are attributed to NO2 emissions.
Air pollution increases the risk of children developing asthma and puts children at risk of an asthma exacerbation or attack and increased risk of premature death.
Ms Blennerhasset said: “Improvements in air quality in Ireland through the reduction of burning all smoky fuels can only have a positive health impact for us all, and especially for those living with respiratory conditions like asthma.”