An Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) report has shown that although Ireland did not exceed legal limits in 2015, it faces threats from traffic fumes and fuel burning.
The report, which was released this month, provides an overview of ambient air quality trends in Ireland in 2015 based on monitoring data from 31 EPA air quality monitoring stations.
Although Ireland did not exceed any legal EU limit values in 2015 for ambient air quality, particulate matter and ozone levels were above the World Health Organisation (WHO) guideline values.
Levels of particulate matter are of growing concern, especially during the winter months when peopleâ€™s fuel choices can directly impact on air quality and health, particularly in small towns and villages. Urban areas also face potential exceedances of nitrogen dioxide limit values unless they move to clean transport choices.
Although air quality in Ireland in general is â€œgood, largely as a result of our relative lack of large cities, weather and access to predominantly clean air from the south west,â€ the report identified the burning of solid fuel and emissions from vehicle exhausts as the main threats to air quality, and noted that â€œit is in this area where much of the reductions can be made.â€
The EEA said better engagement with the public on the topic of air quality will be â€œa key part of the approachâ€ to tackling air quality, including an increased access to air quality data and information.
This is highlighted in EPAâ€™s proposed National Ambient Air Quality Monitoring Programme (AAMP), which is currently out for public consultation. The AAMP proposes three main pillars to improving air quality: an expanded national monitoring network, better modelling and forecasting capability, and citizen engagement and citizen science initiatives.
EPA is also calling for movement towards the adoption of the more health appropriate WHO Air Quality Guidelines, in particular for particulates and ozone, as the legal standards across Europe and in Ireland.
In launching the report, Laura Burke, director general of the EPA, said: â€œEnvironmental protection and health protection are inextricably linked. We all expect that the air we breathe is clean but we cannot take this for granted. It is becoming increasingly clear that there is no safe level of air pollution.
She continued: â€œWhile the EU has introduced and implemented a range of legal instruments to improve air quality, these standards are still not in line with the tighter World Health Organisation air quality guidelines.Â The EPA is calling for movement towards the adoption of these stricter guidelines, especially for particulates and ozone, as legal and enforceable standards across Europe and in Ireland.â€
Patrick Kenny, EPA air quality manager, discussed the EPAâ€™s proposed National Ambient Air Quality Monitoring Programme: â€œThe choices that we as consumers make about how to heat our homes and travel to work and school can directly impact on our local air quality.
â€œA key part of the approach to tackling these issues is increased public access to air quality data and information. We welcome public comment on this and other approaches we are proposing in the draft National Ambient Air Quality Monitoring Programme.â€