Cross-Ireland air quality study announced

Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland have commissioned a joint air quality study to try and tackle the issue of residential burning of solid fuels such as smoky coal

A joint Northern and Southern Ireland air quality study to address residential burning of smoky coal has been announced by the environment ministers of both countries.

Speaking at the Environment Meeting of the North-South Ministerial Council last week (April 23), Northern Ireland environment minister Alex Attwood announced the commissioning of the study alongside the Republic of Ireland’s environment minister Phil Hogan.

NI environment minister Alex Attwood (Photo: Aaron McCracken/Harrisons)

NI environment minister Alex Attwood (Photo: Aaron McCracken/Harrisons)

The study, which will look at the island-wide effects on air quality of smoky coal and solid fuel burning, is expected to finish in late 2013 or early 2014.

According to NI’s Department of the Environment (DoE), pollution in the country is most noticeable in urban or built up areas, particularly in winter, leading the Department issuing High Air Pollution Alerts in the past to warn those whose health is most at risk.

Several high pollution episodes were monitored in Northern Ireland during winter 2012/13, with high particulate matter levels recorded in the likes of Armagh, Strabane and Newry in December 2012. The DoE at the time said this spike in pollution levels was likely due to residential coal burning during cold temperatures (see story).

It was also revealed in a study in February 2013 that levels of the pollutants ozone and benzopyrene were ‘failing to drop in Northern Ireland’ (see story).


Speaking at the meeting, Mr Attwood said: “Minister Hogan and I have agreed to commission a joint North-South study on all-island air quality. In particular, the study will examine the issue of residential burning of smoky coal.

“Burning smoky coal at home can have significant negative impacts on local air quality and as a consequence on our health. We need to understand better the scale and nature of the problem so that we can consider effective ways to tackle it.”

The announcement of the study follows a recent meeting of environment ministers from all European Union member states as part of the Republic of Ireland’s hosting of the EU presidency. Due to 2013 being designated as the EU ‘Year of Air’, air quality was a major issue on the agenda.

Minister Attwood continued: “I can think of no better time than now with 2013 designated as the European Year of Air to take steps necessary to address this issue.

“However, before we look at policy options to deal with the problem, we need to have a sound evidence-base on which to proceed. I therefore welcome the joint study we are proposing today which will provide us with the evidence to take the necessary and proportionate action to improve air quality and realise the significant health benefits.”


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