THE Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has admitted the incoming winter will be a ‘Catch-22’ scenario for many in Donegal.
Programme Manager with the EPA, Pat Byrne was speaking to the Donegal News in the wake of the publication of the agency’s latest Air Quality in Ireland Report 2021.
It reveals that while air quality in Ireland is generally good, there are “concerning localised issues impacting negatively on the air we breathe”.
Mr Byrne admitted the strict standards for all domestic solid fuels to be introduced across the State at the end of next month, meaning the most polluting of home heating fuels will no longer be available, will bring difficulties, particularly given soaring energy costs.
The move was announced last year by Minister for the Environment Eamon Ryan TD. It will, in effect, put in place a national smoky coal ban by extending restrictions beyond designated cities and towns.
Coal and peat
Coal-based products, any manufactured solid fuel or peat briquettes sold in the State will be required to have drastically reduced smoke emission rates.
Sulphur content permitted for all fuels will be reduced from two per cent to one per cent over time.
The regulations are designed to curb air pollution and its impact on public health, especially the threat from particulate matter arising from solid fuel burners.
Mr Byrne said he did not want to be alarmist.
“Towns and villages with higher use of solid fuels will inevitably have higher levels of a particulate matter, which is the main issue when looking at air quality. The more the solid fuel being used, the higher that particulate matter is going to be. In windy conditions, the matter becomes dispersed.
“There are over 100 monitoring stations in the country, including one in Letterkenny, which monitor the situation in terms of air quality. Letterkenny is showing similarly in respect of towns of a similar size in the country.
“It is competent with EU requirements but is above World Health Organisation (WHO) guidelines. The WHO set stringent guidelines last year for lowering levels of what they considered safe for pollutants, with a need to move towards this.”
Soaring energy costs
Mr Byrne said he appreciated that with soaring energy costs, people are feeling the pressure of what to do for the best. He said there were ways to use solid fuels in a more environmentally friendly way.
“We are facing winter, people have a level of fear about how they are going to stay warm because of the energy crisis. Solid fuel may be achievable and necessary for many but there are ways to get around reducing matter into the air such as by using as dry a wood as possible and ensuring your stove is clean.
“Certainly I appreciate people are feeling like they are faced with a Catch-22 situation. It will be an interesting year ahead.
“ The way forward is that if you can avoid using solid fuels all well and good, but if not using cleaner solid fuels will help.”
The WHO say air pollution can increase the risk of stroke, heart disease, lung cancer and both chronic and acute respiratory diseases, including asthma.
It is estimated there are approximately 1,300 premature deaths annually in Ireland due to poor air quality and from the fine particulate matter.