Air Quality in Ireland and Europe

Air Quality in Ireland and Europe

Ireland's Business Post media outlet recently reported a dangerous rise in levels of air pollution, partly attributing this to the persistent flouting of the smoky coal ban. Significantly, the same outlet also investigated a link between poor air quality and increased hospital admissions. As we head into the depths of winter, high levels of fine particulate matter (PM) - typically associated with the burning of smoky solid fuel - increases. According to the EPA, as the weather grew colder in recent months, significant increases in PM were found in Ennis, Letterkenny, Enniscorthy and parts of Dublin. The EPA Director General, Laura Burke is now calling for an outright ban on smoky coal nationwide.

As many people will be aware, there is currently a smoky coal ban in many parts of Ireland, however, a nationwide ban has not yet gained traction. In fact, the coal industry lobby threatened legal action earlier this year should the ban be introduced. 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.


The European Environmental Agency (EEA) Air quality in Europe - 2019 report shows that almost all Europeans living in cities are being exposed to levels of air pollution that exceed the health-based air quality guidelines as set out by the World Health Organisation (WHO). The new EEA analysis is based on the official air quality data from more than 4,000 monitoring stations across Europe in 2017. The report says Europe's air is becoming cleaner, however, the EEA report still notes that nine out of ten Europeans living in cities still breathe air that is harmful for their health. Urban areas are found to be most negatively impacted by decreased air quality due to greater levels of PM, nitrogen dioxide (NO2) and ground-level ozone (O3). All of this contributes to higher levels of air pollution. The European Court of Justice (ECJ) recently held that France had exceeded nitrogen dioxide levels (which are associated with exhaust fumes from diesel engines) in twelve separate zones. The judgement decreed that France must now comply with EU standards immediately or face fines by the European Commission. This ruling follows on from similar actions against Poland and Bulgaria for exceeding pollution limits, making France the third EU country to face sanctions from the European Commission.

Air Quality Influences

In the context of measuring Ireland's air quality, it appears that the burning of fuel in winter months is a disproportionately big issue, causing the upward spiral of PM readings; however, for some European cities, the rise in air quality issues is more closely linked to changes in the economy. Upward mobility leads to urban growth, with more cars on the roads, more trains and a lot more planes in the air. According to the World Health Organisation (WHO) more than 4 million people globally die of air pollution-related issues every year. The impact of air pollution on humans is extensive with several illnesses being directly linked to air pollution including, heart disease, stroke, cancer and respiratory illnesses such as COPD. Furthermore, poor air quality exacerbates the symptoms of chronically ill people, causing a myriad of secondary problems to those who are already ill. Earlier this week, the Irish Times reported that air pollution levels in some parts of Dublin city centre actually doubled on two car-free days earlier this year. Despite the acknowledgement that many people had traveled into the city to enjoy the car-free activities, Dublin City Council has stated that it will not stage any further car-free days at this time.

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