Nine key actions to improve Irish air quality and human health

A nationwide ban on smoky fuels, supports for ‘fuel poverty’ and heat pumps will all help

Turf on a peat bog in Connemara National Park

1 Implement a nationwide prohibition on smoky coal as soon as possible. Air pollution in the form of PM2.5 – the biggest threat to human health from burning solid fuels – does not recognise town or city boundaries.

2 As soon as feasible, proceed to a nationwide ban on smoky fuels, including peat and wet wood, in line with latest scientific evidence on premature deaths due to air pollution, aggravated asthma and heart/stroke risk.

3 Many people are in fuel poverty and reliant on fossils fuels, peat and wood to heat their homes. Scaled-up supports will be needed; part of a "just transition". This should be placed in the context of addressing the global climate and biodiversity crises and enshrined in all energy policies.

A labourer in a coal plant in Xining, northwest China. Photograph: Stringer/Reuters

4 Supporting initiatives could include: green taxes to make "dirty" fuels more expensive; new fuel standards such as wood moisture content ("wet" wood emits more PM2.5); support for people to transition from turf to cleaner fuels and spelling out emission standards for new stoves.


5 Transform the way we heat homes and buildings by retrofitting buildings and facilitating widespread use of heat pumps – as committed to in the programme for government.

6 Replace the Air Pollution Act 1987 with a new Clean Air Act driven by priority for health issues, and adhering to World Health Organisation pollution limits, which are stricter than current EU limits.

7 Liaise with authorities in Northern Ireland on transboundary air pollution with a particular focus on the context of Brexit and ending the smuggling of prohibited fuels.

8 Legislative reforms to enable stronger enforcement related to air pollution and smoky fuel use (with particular regard to EU legislation) including better classification of fuel types.

9 Improve air quality monitoring capacity with more robust, real-time publication of trends across the country.

Sources: EPA; Asthma Society of Ireland, Prof John Wenger (UCC Centre for Research into Atmospheric Chemistry), UCC Centre for Law and the Environment.

An interactive online map illustrates existing low-smoke zones including those coming into operation from September 1st. The map includes an Eircode search facility, whereby a user can enter the Eircode of any particular premises, to see whether or not it falls within a low-smoke zone

Kevin O'Sullivan

Kevin O'Sullivan

Kevin O'Sullivan is Environment and Science Editor and former editor of The Irish Times