Poor air quality causes 1,500 deaths in Ireland every year, new report finds

October 11th, 2017

Air pollution is the cause of the premature death of over 1,500 Irish people every year, a new report from the European Environment Agency (EEA) has found.

The Agency’s annual Air Quality in Europe – report released today estimates that over half a million Europeans die prematurely as a result of exposure to poor air quality each year.

The report from the independent environmental body shows that high concentrations of pollutants, notably particulate matter (PM), nitrogen dioxide (NO2) and ground-level ozone (O3), continue to cause significant harm to the health of Europeans.

Across 41 European countries, PM caused the premature death of 428,000 people, NO2 caused the death of 78,000 people and O3 caused the death of 14,400 people in 2014.

The record also found that 95 per cent of urban populations across all EU Member States were exposed to levels of O3 in excess of WHO guidelines.

The report lists road transport, agriculture, power plants, industry and households as the biggest emitters of air pollution in Europe. The report puts particular emphasis on agriculture, with an entire chapter set aside for this sector.

Agriculture Pressures

The agricultural sector contributes 94 per cent of ammonia and over 50 per cent of methane emissions in the European Union, the EEA found.

The report calls on the agricultural sector “can and should make a significant contribution to the EU’s air quality and climate mitigation efforts”.

This is particularly relevant for Ireland, found to be in breach of air pollution ceilings in a separate EEA report from July mainly due to emissions from the agriculture and transport sector.

Faustine Bas-Defossez, Policy Manager for Agriculture and Bioenergy at the European Environmental Bureau said that today’s report is “yet more proof that our food and farming system is not working in harmony with the environment and health.” She added that considerable policy change is needed for Europe to achieve “sustainable farming”.

The Executive Director of the EEA, Hans Bruyninckx, said that as a society “we should not accept the cost of air pollution”.

He said that while it is “encouraging” to see governments taking steps to improve air quality, much more needs to be done. “Clean air belongs to everyone, including people living in cities” he added.

Climate Change

Another worrying factor is that the increase in air temperature associated with climate change is liely to accelerate chemical reactions that create certain air pollutants. This means that if emissions stay the same, air pollution will rise.

A recent study in Nature Climate Change found that future climate change is expected to cause about 60,000 additional deaths from air pollution in the year 2030 and 260,000 deaths in 2100.

Poor air quality also has significant economic and environmental impacts, damages crops and reduces biodiversity in terrestrial and aquatic ecosystems.

Commenting on the findings of the report,  EU Commissioner for the environment Karmenu Vella said that the European Commission is “committed to tackling” the issue and help the Member States make sure that the “quality of their citizens’ air is of the highest standard.

The EEA’s findings are based on data collected from over 2,500 monitoring stations across Europe, with stations even found on islands off the west coast of Ireland.

It was announced in the Budget yesterday that the EPA will receive additional funding to expand Ireland’s air quality monitoring systems.

There was nothing in the Budget, however, to address the 11c price gap between diesel and petrol, despite pressure from environmental NGOs to equalize the price.

The Environmental Pillar – a coalition fo 26 environmental groups – said that it expected to see some moves toward disincentivising diesel due to the “growing body of evidence on the damaging impact of its use on our climate and health”.

The OECD has recommended equalising the rate, while the European Commission has called Ireland’s policy of taxing diesel less than petrol “environmentally unjustified”.

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