Extensions to Smoky Coal Ban will bring Cleaner Air, Fewer Deaths and can help efficiency

Published on Monday, 09 Jul 2012

Extensions to Smoky Coal Ban will bring Cleaner Air, Fewer Deaths and can help efficiency


Phil Hogan T.D., Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government, today (9th July, 2012) announced that the ‘smoky coal ban’ regulations are to be revised in time for the next winter fuel season, with some expansions of the ban areas within the 20 cities and towns already covered by the smoky coal ban, and 7 new towns being included under the ban from May 2013 onwards.  The new regulations will be the most extensive revision and update to the smoky coal ban since its introduction in 1990. The new regulations include the following provisions:

•    Some existing ban area boundaries are being extended to take recent urban development into account. The revisions are based on Census 2011 data;
•    The ban is being extended to all of Dublin County, including suburbs and satellite towns;
•    Six new provincial towns are to be included (with effect from May 2013) because they have populations over 15,000 people - Greystones, Letterkenny, Mullingar, Navan, Newbridge and Portlaoise;
•    Wicklow Town is also to be included following requests from Wicklow County Council and local representatives;
•    A prohibition on the burning of bituminous or smoky coal is also being introduced to complement the existing ban on the marketing, sale and distribution.  

The lead-in period for the 7 new towns will allow local authorities and fuel retailers time to familiarise themselves with the new regulatory requirements in preparation for the switch-over to smokeless fuels next May.

Minister Phil Hogan T.D., said “Research has indicated that the smoky coal ban introduced in Dublin in 1990 resulted in up to 350 fewer deaths and reduced consumer fuel costs of €184 million per year.  It has clearly been effective in reducing air pollution with proven benefits for human health and our environment and has led to improved quality of life in cities and towns where the ban applies.  I believe that it’s now time to take steps to ensure that those proven benefits are preserved and safeguarded, and are extended more widely by updating the main provisions of the ban to reflect the more recent expansion of many of our urban areas and to ensure its continued effectiveness in mitigating harmful emissions caused by the burning of smoky coal.

“One of my key objectives is to enhance and protect public health and the environment which will, in turn, benefit our citizens in terms of a better quality of life. There are practical economic benefits to this as well. Our environment and ‘green’ image is perhaps our greatest asset and we must carefully manage all activities that impact on this vital asset.  Enhancing our environment will also have positive economic benefits for the tourism, recreation, agricultural and food-producing sectors.”

The Minister added: “2013 has been designated as the Year of Air and will see the revision of the EU’s Thematic Strategy on Air Pollution for the next decade and beyond.  In this context, I see the shift to cleaner fuels for residential heating as a necessary step of our journey to reduce emissions from residential heating into the future, and our transition to a green economy and a sustainable society which will help to consolidate Ireland’s reputation as a clean and green place to live, visit and do business”.

In relation to alternative, non-smoky fuels, Minister Hogan highlighted: “As well as oil and gas, there is a range of innovative smokeless solid fuel products, including smokeless coal products, available which are cleaner as well as more heat-efficient and so can deliver climate benefits as well as improved air quality and human health benefits.  While I recognise the attachment that some people have to ‘smoky’ coal as a preferred solid fuel because it’s what they are used to, I think when they try and get used to smokeless coal products and other alternatives, they will find they are every bit as good as smoky coal; in fact, they are cleaner and better for themselves, for their neighbours and for the environment more generally”.

The ban on the marketing, sale and distribution of bituminous fuel (or ‘smoky coal ban’) was first introduced in Dublin back in 1990 in response to severe episodes of winter smog in the capital that resulted primarily from the widespread use of smoky coal for residential heating. With the ban proving very effective in reducing smoke and sulphur dioxide levels, it was subsequently extended to other areas in a number of phases, and now applies in twenty cities and larger towns across the country. Air quality monitoring by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has shown levels of particulate matter (PM10) are lower in these areas than in towns where the ban does not apply.

On 12 April 2012, Minister Hogan published a consultation paper, “Delivering Cleaner Air”, to inform and assist a review of the smoky coal ban regulations to ensure that they remain fit for purpose in safeguarding air quality and limiting harmful emissions of air pollutants arising from the use of residential fuels.  The consultation paper reviewed the regulations and identified relevant considerations relating to their effective implementation in the context of developments over the twenty years since their introduction. Following consideration of the many submissions received under the consultation process, the smoky coal ban will now be updated in time for the next heating season under consolidating regulations to strengthen the main provisions of the ban.

Minister Hogan acknowledged and thanked those who had made submissions.  “All of the submissions received have been of value in assisting me in developing consolidating legislation and I appreciate the time and efforts of all those who took the trouble to make a submission.”

Acknowledging that a significant number of submissions have called for a nationwide ban on smoky coal, Minister Hogan added: “Enforcement of a nationwide ban would be difficult, particularly where smoky coal is freely available in Northern Ireland.  However, there is scope for improved co-operation with authorities in Northern Ireland in relation to air quality policies generally.  This is an issue I have raised with the Northern Ireland Minister for the Environment, Alex Atwood MLA, who has himself in the past  called for people to burn only smokeless coal.  Our two Departments are working together to further explore options for improved co-operation to mutually benefit air quality on an all-island basis.”

The new regulations will be published and come into force in the coming weeks.  Maps of the revised smoky coal ban areas and new towns being included in the ban from May 2013 will also be made available at this time on the Department’s website – www.environ.ie.


1. Clancy, L et al (2002). Effect of air pollution control on death rates in Dublin, Ireland: an intervention study. The Lancet, 360, 1210-1214

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Notes to the Editor:

Environmental health research1 has indicated that the ban in Dublin resulted in up to 350 fewer annual deaths, with an estimate of these benefits in monetary terms put at over €20 million. Additional benefits of the regulations have also been identified through the stimulation for householders to switch from using solid fuels, which generally are less efficient and more polluting, to more efficient and less polluting gas and oil.  The associated reduced fuel costs to consumers were estimated at €184 million per year.

Details of the new Regulations:
•    Boundary revisions will be applied in most existing smoky coal ban areas to take into account more recent urban development expansion since the 1998 Principal Regulations were made.  The boundary revisions are based on Census 2011 data and will be closely aligned with EPA designated air quality monitoring zones for urban areas so as to promote more consistent air quality management in our cities and towns. The most significant revision will be in Dublin, where the smoky coal ban area is being extended to the entire county to incorporate the extensive development and population growth since 1998 in the suburbs and satellite towns, such as Balbriggan.

•    In addition, the ban will be extended, with effect from 1 May 2013, to six new provincial towns whose populations have now increased to over 15,000 people (as per Census 2011) - Greystones, Letterkenny, Mullingar, Navan, Newbridge and Portlaoise. In addition, Wicklow Town will also be included from 1 May 2013, following requests from Wicklow County Council and local representatives to be included as a smoky coal ban area.  This will go further along the way to addressing the EPA recommendation that the smoky coal ban be extended to all urban areas.  The lead-in period will allow local authorities and fuel retailers time to familiarise themselves with the new regulatory requirements in preparation for the switch-over to smokeless fuels next May.

•    A prohibition on the burning of bituminous coal is also being introduced to complement the existing ban on the marketing, sale and distribution.  The current Regulations do not prohibit the burning of smoky coal with the result that, in some towns, the actual use of smoky coal, sourced from outside the ban area, can be considerable: this undermines the intent of the ban and the improvements in air quality.  The burning of such fuel makes a disproportionate contribution to air pollution, which generally occurs within communities where exposure, including to vulnerable groups, can be highest.  This complementary step, which has been broadly supported in public submissions received under the consultation process as well as by the solid fuel industry, will help to improve the robustness of the legislation and ensure better air quality and health for inhabitants of cities and towns.

Existing areas where the  ban is already in place.
Dublin City and County since 1990
Cork City since 1995
Arklow, Drogheda, Dundalk, Limerick City and Wexford Town since 1998
The regulations were amended in 2000 (SI 278 of 2000 and again in 2003  to add the following towns:
Celbridge, Galway City, Leixlip, Naas and Waterford City since 2000
Bray, Kilkenny, Sligo and Tralee since 2003.
The Regulations were amended again in 2011  to add a further four towns - Athlone, Carlow, Clonmel and Ennis since 2011.

Under the Environment (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 2011 the maximum fine amounts for breaches of the above Regulations have been increased to 5,000 euro on summary conviction. Fixed payment notices (also referred to as ‘on the spot fines’) have also been introduced for certain alleged offences relating to the supply and sale of solid fuel. Persons found to be marketing, selling or distributing bituminous coal in breach of the Regulations are now liable for a fixed payment notice of 1,000 euro.
Complaints regarding the sale of unauthorised fuels or smoky emissions should be reported to the environment section of a local authority.


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