Public Consultation On Smoky Fuel Ban Planned
According to recent reports, the Irish government is set to ask citizens if they want to ban the burning of all smoky fuels including turf, peat, wood and coal. Initially the government was planning to place a nationwide ban on all smoky coal, however, it was met with criticism for not including other fuels that negatively impact the environment. While a public consultation is welcome news to environmentalists and those who suffer from the ill-effects of air pollution, there have been statements on how this delay is further damaging our air quality and there have been repeated calls for action to be taken now.
According to the Irish Examiner, the Asthma Society of Ireland says the government should ban smoky coal immediately and "stop kicking the can down the road". That report quotes research from the Society that found 72 people die from asthma each year and the charity supports plans from Richard Bruton to launch a public consultation on the use of smoky fuels, however, this process should not cause a delay.
The consultation will allow stakeholders to voice their opinions and decide if a smoky fuel ban would be best for the country. In recent weeks, there have been threats of legal challenges that will be waged should nationwide bans come into force. No fewer than three firms indicated their intention to pursue legal challenges in the event that a nationwide ban is introduced. Interestingly, all three of these firms are based outside of the state. This long over due conversation is taking place at a critical time. The EPA recently reported significant increases in Particulate Matter (PM) in Ennis, Letterkenny, Enniscorthy and parts of Dublin. By way of context, safe levels of PM are considered to be no greater than 25µg/m3, whereas Ennis has recorded 100µg/m3 on 16 occasions, and up to 200µg/m3 on five separate occasions. PM levels in Dublin are less severe than across rural towns, which is seen as an argument in favour of the nationwide smoky fuel ban.
Globally, the World Health Organisation (WHO) confirmed that air pollution levels remain dangerously high in many parts of the world. New data from WHO shows that 9 out of 10 people breathe air containing high levels of pollutants. Furthermore, the WHO estimates that around 7 million people die every year from exposure to polluted air. Ambient air pollution caused some 4.2 million deaths in 2016, while household air pollution from cooking with polluting fuels and technologies caused an estimated 3.8 million deaths in the same period.
The burning of fuel in winter months is a common problem for many countries. All countries need to recognise the importance of air quality and the impact to the entire population if it is not controlled. Air pollution studies consistently link many illnesses directly to poor air quality including: heart disease, stroke, cancer and respiratory illnesses such as COPD. This is something all governments must take seriously. Ultimately, the impact will be illustrated with increased health problems and a downward spiral of the public's health, loss of workers' productivity, global warming and diminished air quality for the country's population.
The rollout of the smoky fuel public consultation is coming at a critical time and Ireland must show global leadership.
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