National smoky coal ban to come into force next year

Regulations are designed to curb air pollution and its impact on public health

Strict standards regarding the sale of  coal, coal-based products and any manufactured solid fuel or peat briquettes will come into effect in 2022. Photograph: iStock

Strict standards regarding the sale of coal, coal-based products and any manufactured solid fuel or peat briquettes will come into effect in 2022. Photograph: iStock

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Strict standards for all domestic solid fuels will be introduced across the State from next year, meaning the most polluting of home-heating fuels will no longer be available, the Minister for the Environment has announced.

The move will, in effect, put in place a national smoky coal ban by extending restrictions beyond designated cities and towns. 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.

Given the extent of changes that will be required in home heating, the announcement gives notice to fuel suppliers to end the sale of certain products, including many being imported.

From 2022 coal, coal-based products, any manufactured solid fuel or peat briquettes sold in the State will be required to have a smoke emission rate of less than 10grams/hour, reducing to 5g/hr by 2025. Sulphur content permitted for all fuels will be reduced from 2 per cent to 1 per cent over time.

Wood sold in single units under 2 cubic metres in size will be required to have a moisture content of 25 per cent or less moving to 20 per cent within four years. Wet wood sold over these volumes will be required to come with instructions for the purchaser on how to dry this wood.

To accommodate those with rights to harvest sod peat, no ban on its burning will be introduced. Such a move would be politically fraught in parts of the west and midlands where small scale extraction takes place.

“However, a regulatory regime to reduce its harm in more urbanised areas is under examination,” Minister for the Environment Eamon Ryan confirmed.

The Minister made the announcement to mark International Day of Clean Air for Blue Skies on Tuesday. Poor air quality causes premature deaths and each year 1,300 people die in Ireland mainly due to air pollution from solid fuel burning. “This demonstrates the extent to which the choices we make when heating our homes can impact on our own health and the communities in which we live,” the Minster said.

Particulate matter

The chief culprit is particulate matter in the form known as PM2.5, which combined with traffic fumes in urban areas frequently adds to air pollution and the resulting threat to human health.

“When this Government was formed, we gave a commitment to tackle air pollution caused by domestic solid fuel burning, and we remain committed to doing so,” Mr Ryan added.

A major step was taken earlier this year, he noted, with a public consultation on the development of new solid fuels regulations. There were more than 3,500 responses with a wide variety of suggested regulatory approaches.

“Having considered the submissions made by the public, health experts, advocacy groups, academia and industry, a framework for legislation has been developed and drafting of the regulations is under way,” he confirmed.

These regulations will be finalised in coming months and will be in place for the 2022 heating season. “They are being announced now to allow those servicing the domestic solid fuel market to plan accordingly and to continue to invest in less polluting alternatives,” he said.

Cleaner fuels

In the meantime, he hoped people would take note of the messages in a forthcoming public awareness campaign, and take simple steps “to bring about better air quality and improved health for all” by reducing pollution from domestic fires during the winter ahead. “During this period, people are being empowered to make a conscious, personal choice to contribute to cleaner air and a healthier environment,” he said.

The “ABC for cleaner air” campaign focuses on three steps: ask yourself, “do I need to light a fire?”; burn cleaner, more efficient, low-smoke fuels; and clean and maintain your chimneys and heating appliances.

“By taking these simple steps people can help to safeguard the health of those who are at particular risk of problems caused by air pollution, such as people with asthma, children and the elderly,” Mr Ryan said.

The Minister is to open a public consultation on the long-awaited first national clean air strategy shortly. This will provide a strong legal framework to enhance air quality, notably enforcement. It will involve a multi-agency approach, including clamping down on the sale of high-sulphur content fuel imported from the UK.

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