Air pollution is a major environmental risk to health. According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), air pollution can increase the risk of stroke, heart disease, lung cancer, and both chronic and acute respiratory diseases, including asthma. The World Health Organisation estimates that more than 400,000 premature deaths are attributable to poor air quality in Europe annually. In Ireland, the number of premature deaths attributable to air pollution is estimated at 1,300 people (Air Quality in Europe 2020, EEA) and is mainly due to cardiovascular disease. The WHO has described air pollution as the ‘single biggest environmental health risk’.
The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), in partnership with Local Authorities, have implemented the Ambient Air Monitoring Programme with comprises of a network of 96 monitoring stations strategically positioned across the country measuring ‘real-time’ concentrations of atmospheric pollutants (further information available at: www.airquality.ie ). At present, two Air Monitoring Stations (AMS) are operational in Co. Monaghan, located in KillKitt, Ballybay & Monaghan town. Monitoring real-time data from these two stations can be seen in the graphs below:
The ambient air quality pollutants of most concern on an EU-wide level are Nitrogen Dioxide (NO2), Particulate Matter (PM), Ozone (O3) and Polycyclic Aromatic Hydrocarbons (PAHs). They can impact on human health, ecosystems and vegetation and monitoring is carried out to determine their concentration levels.
PM are a complex mixture of solid and liquid particles of organic and inorganic substances suspended in the air. typically measured as PM10 and PM2.5 with diameters of 10μm (microns) or 2.5μm. PM is a common proxy indicator for air pollution. The major components of PM are sulfate, nitrates, ammonia, sodium chloride, black carbon, mineral dust and water. These particles can consist of direct emissions such as dust, emissions from combustion engines and from the burning of solid fuels or natural sources.
The main source of Sulphur Dioxide in Ireland is burning coal and oil to heat homes and industries and to produce electricity. It is an irritant gas which attacks the throat and lungs. Prolonged exposure can lead to increases in respiratory illnesses like chronic bronchitis. It contributes to the formation of acid rain, which damages vegetation and buildings. Levels in Ireland are low to moderate. Overall levels have decreased over recent years due to increased use of low-sulphur “smokeless” coal, increased use of natural gas instead of solid fuels and reduced industrial emissions through IPC licensing.
Emissions from traffic are the main source of Nitrogen Oxides in Ireland, along with electricity generating stations and industry. Oxides of Nitrogen contribute to the formation of acid rain and ozone. Levels in Ireland are moderate but are increasing due to growth in traffic numbers.
The formation of ground level ozone (O3) is complex. It is formed from reactions between pollutants such as NOX, carbon monoxide and various volatile organic compounds (VOCs) in the presence of sunlight. Ozone is also a transboundary pollutant – it originates in one country but is able to cause damage in another country’s environment, by crossing borders. High concentrations of ground level ozone can affect the functioning of the respiratory system and damage crops and other vegetation
Particulate Matter from solid fuel burning remains the greatest threat to good air quality in Ireland. This is closely followed by Nitrogen Dioxide from transport emissions.