The number of deaths attributable to air pollution has increased

25 September 2020

The amount of premature deaths attributable to air pollution has increased from 2016, according to new data released by the EPA. 

The agency published its annual Air Quality report today and found in their latest estimates that 1,300 premature deaths per annum are due to air pollution, up from the 2016 figure of 1,180. 

Levels of air pollution were found to be above WHO guidelines at 33 monitoring stations across the country, and breaches were mostly the result of solid fuel burning in cities, towns and villages. 

The combustion of solid fuels are particularly high during the winter months due to the elevated use of materials such as coal, turf and wet woods. 

A move towards “cleaner modes of home heating fuels” will see air quality subsequently improve, the EPA recommends. 

The impact of traffic-related nitrogen dioxide pollution is increasing, according to the report, and the EU limit value on the pollutant was exceeded at one Dublin traffic monitoring location. 

These types of breaches will continue unless we curb our reliance on fossil fuel powered transport, particularly diesel cars, the body warned. 

“Ireland is renowned for its countryside and clean fresh air, but we can no longer take this for granted,” Director of the EPA’s Office of Radiation Protection & Environmental Monitoring Dr. Ciara McMahon said. 

“Poor air quality impacts people’s health and quality of life, so it is now time to tackle the two key issues that impact negatively on air quality in Ireland – transport emissions in large urban areas and emissions from burning of solid fuels in our cities, towns and villages,” she added. 

Air pollution and stroke 

Just a month prior to the publication of this report, a study led by the Royal College of Surgeons Ireland (RCSI) found last month that higher levels of air pollution in winter is linked to increased stroke hospitalisations in Dublin. 

The study was the first of its kind to demonstrate a clear link between short-term air pollution and stroke in Ireland. 

Air pollutants like nitrogen dioxide and sulphur dioxide narrow blood vessels in the body, and they can trigger clots to form in arteries and cause a stroke, lead report author Dr. Colm Byrne told The Green News. 

The pollutants can also trigger heart rhythm problems, like atrial fibrillation, that can also lead to a stroke. Their presence can also cause neuro-inflammation. 

Additionally, small particles that pollute the air can also cross into the blood and cause effects directly to blood vessels and the brain. 

The consequences of air pollution can be seen “very quickly”, often in a matter of hours or days, Dr. Byrne said.

Nationwide smoky coal bans

In July the Minister for Climate Action Eamon Ryan signed regulations that will extend a ban on the burning of smoky coal to all towns with populations over 10,000 people with the aim of improving public health outcomes. 

In the Programme for Government the coalition of Fianna Fáil, Fine Gael and the Green Party will “move towards a full nationwide ban” but the document did not provide detail on how it would get there.

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Kayle Crosson