Ireland’s ammonia emissions continue to surge

Ireland’s ammonia emissions continue to surge, exceeding EU limits, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has said. 

A new report published by the EPA has revealed that the expansion of the agriculture sector has played a significant role in a substantial increase in ammonia emissions during 2018.

The report reveals that ammonia, non-methane volatile organic compounds, sulphur dioxide, nitrogen oxides and particulate matter, are among the country five chief air pollutants.

Since 2016, Ireland’s ammonia emissions have steadily increased with the agriculture sector being responsible for 99 per cent of ammonia pollution in the country. Although the surge has gone through periods of decline, Ireland remains non-complaint with binding EU limits for the pollutant, the EPA has warned.

Extract from EPA infographic
Extract from EPA infographic on air pollutant emissions in Ireland

The environmental agency has also highlighted increases in Nitrogen Oxides (NOx) emissions – produced primally by transport and diesel-fuelled vehicles – since 2010. However it notes that NOx emission experienced a slight decline in 2018.

Emissions of non-methane volatile organic compounds (NMVOC) – mostly produced from spirit production in the food and beverage industry animal manures and fertilisers – and Particulate Matter (PM2.5) has displayed marginal changes. Emanations of NMVOC mostly briefly decreased in 2018 while PM2.5 contamination underwent a small decrease, according to the EPA. 

Extract from EPA infographic on air pollutant emissions in Ireland
Extract from EPA infographic on air pollutant emissions in Ireland

 Sulphur Dioxide (SO2) emissions have followed a downward trend, the new report stated.

Those figures do not include the impact of the coronavirus crisis on air quality, the EPA has confirmed.

A significant decline in the emissions of Nitrogen Dioxide is widely attributed to paralysis of air travel and a substantial reduction in economic activities during the ongoing Covid-19 crisis.

Not Sufficient 

The environmental agency has warned that even full implementations of the objectives of the Climate Action Plan may not be sufficient for meeting 2030’s EU emissions limit. Albeit it strongly advocates the actualisation of those objectives as having ‘co-benefits in terms of reducing air pollutants.’

Last year, the EPA had also warned that PM2.5 emissions in Ireland were consistently high, transgressing World Health Organisation (WHO) Air Quality Guidelines Values.

This pollutant has been highlighted as having the most significant negative impact on  the  health of  the Irish population. It is responsible for 1,100 of a total 1,150 premature deaths in 2015.

Solid fuels, including coal, peat and wood used for heating are the primary sources of PM2.5 pollution.

Another recent EPA report on urban environmental issues revealed that NO2 pollution in Dublin might already be above the EU safety ceiling. The M50 motorway, several city-centre streets and the entrance and exit of the Dublin Port tunnel were reported as the most polluted areas.

The Ammonia Threat

Dr Eimear Cotter, the EPA’s Director of Office of Environmental Sustainability, emphasised the importance of moving toward a significant decrease in emissions of all air pollutants to ensure air quality and protect public health. Dr Cotter, however, placed a fine point on the urgency of tackling ammonia emissions.

“Ammonia emissions need to be addressed as a matter of urgency. The underlying drivers are the use of animal manure and nitrogen fertilisers which can be reduced through widespread adoption of on-farm measures,” she said.

Dr Cotter stated that “switching to cleaner fuels, technology improvements and a significant uptake of electric vehicles” are some of the necessary measures that the Government must work toward their implementation.

Stephen Treacy, EPA’s Senior Manager also said that the Government must take note of the recent findings and suggest solutions for addressing issues concerning air pollution in its upcoming National Clean Air Strategy.

“The National Clean Air Strategy, which is currently under preparation, will need to propose measures to reduce air pollutant emissions, particularly where non-compliance with the 2030 limits is projected,” he said.

He continued that the transport sector is a consistent threat to air quality in Ireland thanks to its ever-increasing “fleet of cars, vans and trucks.”

“It is important that planned measures are implemented to reduce these emissions and decouple them from economic growth, particularly as we exit current COVID-19 related travel restrictions,” he said.

Over 90 per cent of the world’s population is estimated to breathe polluted air that fails to meet recommended WHO air quality objectives, with air pollution influencing seven million untimely deaths every year. A new index from the Energy Policy Institute at the University of Chicago released last November described air pollution as a more significant threat to human lives than smoking and even war.

The EPA infographic on air pollutant emissions in Ireland can be downloaded here.

About the Author

Shamim Malekmian

Shamim is a Senior Reporter at The Green News and a contributing writer to the Irish Examiner, Cork Evening Echo and the Dublin Inquirer.