The Irish Times take on a hidden killer


Global air pollution, responsible for up to 10 million premature deaths each year, is the greatest threat to the environmental health of human populations. Half of these deaths, concentrated in the developing world, are the result of the consumption and combustion of fossil fuels in the richest countries of the world. The latest Environmental Protection Agency report on air pollution in Ireland confirms that it is far from confined to distant sprawling mega-cities regularly covered in smog.

Fine particles resulting from the combustion of solid fuels, such as coal, peat and wet wood, remain the main contributor to poor air quality in Ireland, with “worrying localized problems” in cities, towns and cities. cities and even villages, according to the 2021 report. It is estimated to be responsible for 1,300 premature deaths per year. Monitored levels of particulate matter, including PM2.5, were above World Health Organization guideline values ​​at 38 of 67 monitoring stations. Most of them were due to pollution caused by burning solid fuels for home heating. Air pollution associated with city traffic has decreased due to restrictions related to Covid-19.

Now is the time for countries, including Ireland, to systematically comply with higher WHO standards

Hardening of the evidence that poor air quality exacerbates a wide range of conditions, including stroke, heart disease, lung cancer, and chronic respiratory disease – and undermines children’s health in particular – has ultimately led better targeting of atmospheric pollution at the international level.

The health benefits of tackling air pollution are confirmed by a recent analysis by the European Environment Agency showing that the current EU annual limit value for PM2.5 would have left premature deaths unchanged in 2019; while the new, more demanding 2021 WHO air quality guideline would have reduced related premature deaths by at least 58%.

Ireland’s new solid fuel regulations which come into force in 2022 – where charcoal products sold will have to be ‘low smoke’ and the wood will have to have a moisture content of 25% or less – will help. However, the time has come for countries, including Ireland, to systematically comply with the more demanding standards of the WHO.


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