Air Quality Overview
Ireland benefits from prevailing weather patterns which typically bring relatively clean south westerly Atlantic air over the country. Under certain conditions, typical weather patterns can be disrupted, and pollutant emissions build up in the air. These conditions can occur at any time of the year, but the impact on air quality can be particularly severe during winter, when the combination of cold still weather, increased emissions associated with a higher heating demand, particularly from solid fuels, can lead to high concentrations of pollutants with a consequent increased risk to human health.
The intensity of the severe "smog" problems which occurred in the 1980s/early 1990s has been significantly reduced primarily due to the ban on the marketing, sale and distribution of bituminous coal in certain urban areas. Increasingly stringent vehicle emission standards have reduced traffic emissions significantly, though these reductions have been offset to some degree by the increase in numbers of vehicles on the roads.
The extension of the smoky coal ban is one of a number of initiatives that the Department is currently examining as part of a programme to produce the first-ever National Clean Air Strategy. This Strategy will provide the framework for a set of cross-Government policies and actions to reduce harmful emissions and improve air quality and public health to meet current and future EU and international obligations. The Department intends to issue a consultation document in the near future as a first step in this process.
Good air quality and progress in the climate change area also go hand in hand. The Paris Climate Change agreement will also inform the Department’s work in this area. More details on the agreement can be found in the Climate Change area of our website.
Poor air quality is a major health risk, causing lung diseases, cardiovascular diseases, and cancer. Children, the elderly and citizens suffering from asthma and respiratory conditions are most affected. As well as negative effects on health, air pollution has considerable economic impacts, cutting short lives, increasing medical costs, and reducing productivity through lost working days. Air pollution also impacts the environment, affecting the quality of fresh water, soil, and ecosystems.
In 2010, more than 400 000 people are estimated to have died prematurely from air pollution in the EU. Air pollution can also damage materials and buildings, and some air pollutants behave like greenhouse gases that cause climate change. The economic cost of the health impacts alone is huge, estimated at EUR 330-940 billion (3-9% of EU GDP).
While in the larger cities, traffic emissions are the main source of air pollution, in smaller towns or those areas not connected to the natural gas grid, emissions from residential solid fuel combustion dominate. The air quality in cities benefits from increased use of gas in place of solid fuel, and a ban on the use of bituminous coal, with the result that levels of particulate matter are similar across big cities and less populated areas.
A range of measures can help to reduce traffic emissions, and in doing so help reduce congestion, promote fuel efficiency and promote health and well-being by, for example, promoting exercise through cycling.
Such measures include:
- vehicle emission standards,
- fuel efficiency in vehicles,
- modal shift (LUAS, DART, quality bus corridors (QBCs), cycle lanes, etc.),
- demand management (large infrastructural projects such as the M50 upgrade, the Dublin Port Tunnel, various town by-passes and general measures to help relieve traffic congestion etc.),
- restructuring of vehicle registration tax (VRT) and motor tax in favour of more fuel-efficient cars, lower emissions, and
- excise relief on biofuels.
Air Quality Standards/Monitoring
The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is the competent authority with responsibility for ambient air quality monitoring. Air quality monitoring is undertaken by the EPA and local authorities via the national air quality monitoring network. Results of air quality monitoring can be viewed on the EPA website which provides real-time, publicly accessible, data from a number of monitoring stations nationally which allows the public to gauge air quality in relation to current EU and national standards.
The EPA's annual reports on air quality contain details of the monitoring and assessment of national air quality, and incorporate data from air quality monitoring stations operated by the EPA and local authorities. The Agency's most recent report can be found on the EPA website.
Ambient air quality monitoring and assessment in Ireland is carried out in accordance with the requirements of Directive 2008/50/EC on ambient air quality and cleaner air for Europe, also known as the CAFE Directive. The CAFE Directive has been transposed into national legislation by the Air Quality Standards Regulations 2011.
These regulations set limit values/target values for the following pollutants:
- Sulphur Dioxide
- Nitrogen Dioxide and Oxides of Nitrogen
- Particulate Matter (PM10 and PM2.5)
- Carbon Monoxide and
The CAFE Directive did not change existing air quality standards but did introduce new obligations relating to fine particulate matter (PM2.5), which is considered to be especially harmful to human health. Levels of PM2.5 in Ireland are generally in line with the new CAFE limit values. However, all Member States are required to calculate the current exposure of their population to PM2.5 and to take steps to reduce this exposure by 2020. The final average exposure indicator and national exposure reduction target was determined based on data from 2012.
Reporting Air Pollution
Primary responsibility for monitoring air quality, as well as the nature, extent of emissions is assigned to the Environmental Proteection Agency (EPA). Under the Air Pollution Act 1987, primary responsibility for adressing local instances of air pollution is assigned to local authorities.
Local authorities have enforcement powers under the Act, including power to require measures to be taken to prevent or limit air pollution.
Any person concerned about the effects of fumes or pollution from any source on the ambient air quality should raise the matter with the local authority concerned.