Homes that burned more coal, wood and turf during the lockdown have been blamed for air quality violations at half the monitoring stations

AIR pollution from open fires and other domestic heating systems has exceeded safe levels at more than half of the country’s monitoring stations during Covid restrictions.

Latest air quality reports from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) show that particulate matter (PM2.5), which is primarily tiny particles of soot, smoke, dust, and oil and gas residues, increased by 1 .4 percent has increased.

The figures come amid backlash over Environment Secretary Eamon Ryan’s attempts to tighten restrictions on the sale of smoky fuels, including peat.

While overall levels were within World Health Organization (WHO) guidelines, the EPA says there are significant local air quality issues.

“Particulate matter levels measured at environmental monitoring stations in Ireland remain a concern in villages and towns,” it said.

“In 2020, monitored levels of particulate matter were above WHO air quality guidelines at 38 out of 67 monitoring stations.”

PM2.5 is the pollutant blamed for most health problems related to air quality, as the tiny airborne particles are easily inhaled and lodge in the lungs.

They can cause a range of respiratory diseases and aggravate existing conditions and are the leading cause of around 1,300 premature deaths in Ireland each year.

With transport severely reduced due to Covid and commercial activities also restricted, the blame for the increase in PM2.5 clearly points to residential heating.

The vast majority of Irish homes are still heated using fossil fuels – mainly oil and gas, but also coal, peat and wood.

The EPA says the rise in PM2.5 is due to people spending more time at home due to Covid-19 restrictions, but even without Covid, levels are above what they should be in many areas.

“Local exceedances of air quality standards continue to have negative impacts on air quality and health,” it says.

“Tackling air quality issues in towns and villages requires a continuous transition away from solid fuels for residential heating.”

The annual air quality report mainly focuses on five key pollutants for which the EU has set maximum levels and reduction targets for 2030.

Ammonia emissions, 99.4 percent of which come from agriculture, are also harmful to health, causing acid rain and affecting water quality.

The report shows that Ireland has failed to meet reduction targets in eight of the last nine years.

Ireland is complying with limits and reductions for nitrogen oxides and sulfur dioxide, although the traffic slump helped good performance on nitrogen oxides.

The EPA is also concerned about nitrogen emissions that settle into soil and water, adding to the already serious nitrogen pollution problems there.

PM2.5 levels are also compliant at national level, but with the localized issues already described.

Emissions of non-methane volatile organic compounds – by-products of the food and beverage industry, manure, fertilizers and solvents – are compliant with the ceilings but are not decreasing fast enough.

Disclosures from the growing spirits industry have also increased 65 percent in a decade, and the EPA says this needs to be addressed. Homes that burned more coal, wood and turf during the lockdown have been blamed for air quality violations at half the monitoring stations

Fry Electronics Team

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