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Air Quality Overview

National Clean Air Strategy
We are currently developing Ireland’s first 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. More details about the development of the Strategy can be found on our dedicated page.

Reporting Air Pollution
Primary responsibility for monitoring air quality, as well as the nature and extent of emissions is assigned to the EPA. Under the Air Pollution Act 1987, primary responsibility for addressing local instances of air pollution is assigned to local authorities.
Local authorities’ enforcement powers include the 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.

Air Quality Standards/Monitoring
We work with the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to monitoring air quality. 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 international standards.

The EPA's annual reports on air quality contain details of the monitoring and assessment of national air quality. The Agency's most recent report can be found on the EPA website.

Air Quality in Ireland 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 selling, buying or burning of ‘smoky’ coal in certain urban areas. Incrementally tighter vehicle emission standards in recent decades have reduced emissions from vehicles, though the ‘real world’ emissions have been significantly higher than emission standards and so reductions have not been as great as anticipated. Reductions have also been offset to some degree by the increase in numbers of vehicles on the roads.

Good air quality and progress in the climate change area go hand in hand. The Paris Climate Change agreement informs our work in this area. More details on the agreement can be found in the Climate Change area of our website.

Health effects of Air Pollution
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 very significant, estimated at 330-940 billion Euros (3-9% of EU GDP).

In 2013 the European Environment Agency estimated that that in the region of 1,600 premature deaths were attributable to fine particulate matter and other air pollutants in Ireland. In addition, estimates indicate that air pollution has health-related costs in Ireland of over € 2 billion per year; including the loss of 382,000 workdays per year.

While in the larger cities, traffic emissions are the main source of air pollution, in smaller towns, emissions from residential solid fuel combustion dominate. Air quality in cities benefit from increased use of gas in place of solid fuel and the ban on the use of smoky coal, with the result that levels of air pollution (particulate matter) can often be higher in smaller towns and urban areas than in the bigger cities.

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.
Such measures include:

  • Higher vehicle emission standards,
  • Improved fuel efficiency in vehicles,
  • Modal shift (LUAS, DART, quality bus corridors, cycle lanes, etc.),
  • Demand management,
  • Excise relief on biofuels.

However, it is important that such measures are carefully considered so that they do not have negative impacts on air quality. For example, the restructuring of VRT and motor tax so as to be based on CO2, promoted diesel vehicles that have higher air pollutant emissions than petrol equivalents.

European Union initiatives
Ambient air quality monitoring and assessment in Ireland is carried out in accordance with the requirements of the CAFE Directive on ambient air quality and cleaner air for Europe. 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)
  • Lead
  • Benzene
  • Carbon monoxide and
  • Ozone (O3)

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 CAFE limit values. However, all Member States are required to calculate the current exposure of their population to PM2.5 and to set a National Exposure Reduction Target (NERT) and to take steps to further reduce exposure and reach the NERT by 2020.