May 3rd, 2017
Dublin Friends of the Earth has called on the Department of Environment and Climate Action to agree strong and decisive action in its first-ever proposed National Clean Air Strategy.
The group outlined its findings in a twelve-page submission to the Department’s Cleaning Our Air public consultation, which closed last Friday.
The submission states that it is now “indisputable” that poor air quality is a public health issue requiring clear leadership from our politicians alongside energy, health, and transport.
Poor air quality can cause serious risks of heart diseases, stroke, respiratory diseases and lung cancer. It is estimated that 1,200 people die prematurely from exposure to poor air quality in Ireland every year.
Ireland’s air quality is good by European standards, but it does not fare so well when measured against new World Health Organisation (WHO) guidelines.
Ireland exceeds WHO guideline values for PM10 and PM2.5 – very fine particulates smaller than 10 micrometres that can enter the lungs and cause major health problems.
Solid fuels such as coal and turf for domestic heating remain the main cause of poor air quality in rural towns and villages, especially those not on the national gas grid. A nationwide smoky coal ban is set to be enforced next year.
The submission also outlines several recommendations including replacing fossil fuels with clean energy in transport, heating and power generation.
Community renewables energy schemes, an “ambitious” retrofitting programme and major investment in cycling and clean public transport are also mooted as potential solutions.
Traffic is the key pressure on air quality in our largest cities as exhaust emissions leave us hovering dangerously close to EU limits for nitrogen dioxide NO2, another major contributor to poor air quality.
According to Debora O’Connor, a member of Dublin Friends of the Earth, if the public is presented with the correct policy, people will “make the right choices to protect ourselves and our environment.”
The submission also calls for a large increase in air monitoring stations, and for real-time results to be made available online. Information should also be available on electronic displays as there is currently “grossly inadequate information” provided on outdoor air quality, the submissions states.
“Most air pollution in Ireland today is invisible but it affects everyone – motorists and taxi drivers as well as pedestrians and cyclists, children and parents at school gates as well as people with asthma and other chronic illnesses,” said Dr Matt Robinson, a member of Dublin Friends of the Earth.
Ireland currently has 31 air monitoring stations but no national real-time information is available to the public. Wexford County Council is currently the only local authority with real-time monitoring equipment in place, with devices in Wexford Town and New Ross.
The equipment measures a number of small particles in the air such as emissions from fires, with data updated every 15 minutes to reflect 24-hour and seven-day cycles.