Health-based pollution limits linked to traffic will be “challenging for Ireland to meet” says EPA

Ireland has failed to meet the more stringent health-based World Health Organization air quality guidelines for a number of pollutants, the Environmental Protection Agency said.

The country was compliant with weaker EU air quality limits in 2022, but these are based more on politics compared to the WHO guidelines which are evidence-based and focused on health impacts.

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The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) said that WHO published new air quality guidelines in 2021 are “based on the impact of pollutants on human health” and it “will be challenging for Ireland to meet”.

The WHO has an explainer on its website about the types of pollution and their effects, this includes: That the health risks associated with particulate matter are “capable of penetrating deep into the lung and enter the bloodstream causing” heart disease, stroke and respiratory impacts, including lung cancer, while exposure to nitrogen dioxide can “irritate airways and aggravate respiratory diseases.”

In its 2022 report on air quality released today, the EPA said that there were breaches in the levels of particulate matter (PM), nitrogen dioxide (N02), sulphur dioxide (SO2) and ozone (O3) due “mainly to the burning of solid fuel in our towns and villages and traffic in our cities”.

There have been concerns expressed by campaigners that the EPA does not have enough localised air quality monitors near traffic pollution — 80% of non-EPA air monitors put in place as part of the Clear Air Together Citizen Science Project exceeded WHO guidelines for Nitrogen dioxide.

Dr Micheál Lehane, Director of the EPA’s Office of Radiation Protection & Environmental Monitoring, said: “The EPA’s air quality monitoring has shown that Ireland met all of its EU legal requirements in 2022. However, we did not meet the World Health Organisation (WHO) air quality guidelines for health. This highlights the immediate challenge to move towards the WHO air quality guidelines in the Clean Air Strategy.”

He added: “While undoubtably challenging, the significantly positive impacts of clean air on health are clear and the report identifies some of the actions that are necessary to achieve the health-based air quality guidelines.”

Pat Byrne, EPA Programme Manager, said: “The localised issues that we see in the 2022 monitoring results impact negatively on air quality and health. Monitoring stations across Ireland recorded high levels of particulate matter associated with burning solid fuels in our towns and villages and high levels of nitrogen dioxide in our larger cities associated with road traffic.”

He added: “We can have immediate impacts on our local air quality by making changes in how we heat our homes and finding alternative ways to travel. These actions which also have positive climate impacts”.

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