— For cleaner air, EPA recommends mix of walking and cycling, cleaner public transport and electric cars.
Ireland’s Environmental Protection Agency has said emissions from diesel engine passenger cars are more extensive than previously understood and that nitrogen dioxide (NO2) has exceeded EU levels at St John’s Road West in Dublin.
According to latest estimates there are 1,300 premature deaths in Ireland per year which can be attributed to air pollution, the EPA said. The EPA said that air pollutants were above the WHO’s guideline values for health at 33 monitoring stations across Ireland. It said this is mostly as a result of the burning of solid fuel in our cities, towns and villages, but traffic pollution remains a problem, especially in city centres.
While other areas — such as Pearse Street in Dublin — also suffer from high NO2 emissions, an exceedance of EU legal limits at St John’s Road West is focused on in the EPA’s annual air quality report as such has triggered a legal requirement “to prepare an air quality action plan to address this exceedance”.
EU legal limits are less strict than WHO limits and the experts have warned Ireland will be in breach of more EU limits if they are make stricter.
The EPA’s Air Quality Report 2019 states: “As signalled in last year’s Air Quality Report and also flagged in the ‘Urban Environmental Indicators Report’, Ireland has exceeded the EU annual limit value for NO2 at our urban traffic monitoring station at St. John’s Road West. As shown in this report the key contributor to pollution at this site is traffic‐related emissions. Indeed, with further monitoring it is becoming increasingly obvious that the problems of emissions from transport (in particular diesel engine passenger cars) are more extensive than previously understood.”
The report said: “The exceedance was at the St. John’s Road West station. An annual average concentration of 43 µg/m3 was measured in 2019. This is above the EU annual limit value for NO2 of 40 µg/m3. This exceedance of an air pollution standard is as a result of the heavy traffic passing this monitoring station. Figure 7 shows the average NO2 concentrations by hour of day observed at St. John’s Road West for 2019. The classic pattern of traffic due to commuting can be seen with two peaks in pollutant levels ‐ one during the morning and one during the evening rush hours. However, there is quite a high baseline level of NO2 also which suggests quite consistent traffic volumes in this area.
2020 date from the EPA shows the reduction in NO2 emissions related to the lockdown and how easing restrictions shows a bounce back in emissions on St John’s Road West:
The EPA’s report said: “As an exceedance of an EU limit for nitrogen dioxide has been confirmed in Dublin, the Local Authorities in Dublin and its suburbs, are now legally required to prepare an air quality action plan to address this exceedance. The action plan must be produced by the end of 2021. This will involve examining both the causes and providing solutions in the affected areas. The Department of Communications, Climate Action and the Environment (DCCAE) together with the Department of Transport (DOT) established a joint working group to address this issue during 2019 and a report on this group’s recommendations is currently being prepared, which is welcomed by the EPA.”
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In a press release, Dr Ciara McMahon, director of the EPA’s Office of Radiation Protection & Environmental Monitoring, said: “Ireland is renowned for its countryside and clean fresh air, but we can no longer take this for granted. 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: “The choices we make affect the levels of pollution in the air we breathe, which in turn affects the health of our lungs, heart and other organs. We need to decarbonise our public transport system and in general reduce our reliance on diesel and petrol-powered vehicles. Moving to cleaner ways of heating our homes will also significantly improve air quality across Ireland.”
Patrick Kenny, EPA air quality manager said: “Air pollutants have a negative impact on people’s health and emissions impact at a local level, in our communities. That is why we are continuing to install more monitoring stations across the country under the National Ambient Air Quality Monitoring Programme. With 24 more stations providing online data in 2019, this programme has now almost trebled the number of real-time monitoring stations – to 84 – providing air quality data across Ireland.”