Over 1,100 fatalities in 2011 due to domestic fuel pollution

Study - reduction of 40% emissions via fuel-burning could save 500 lives annually

More than 1,140 adults in the Republic died as a result of air pollution caused by residential fuel-burning in 2011, a new North-South study has estimated.

A 40 per cent reduction in the number of particles emitted in the smoke and dust created by fuel-burning could save more than 500 lives a year, according to the study by the Department of the Environment in Northern Ireland.

The burning of peat made the largest overall national contribution to potentially harmful smoke and dust emitted by residential fuel-burning, despite the decline in peat's popularity over the past decade, the report found. The aim of the study, seen by The Irish Times, is to help governments North and South to develop policy options for reducing harmful emissions from residential solid fuels.

Almost all the residential pollution “hot spots” in the Republic are in deprived or very deprived areas, mostly rural parts of the State, it said. “These areas predominantly use coal or peat for heating with little use of oil or gas and thus the potential exists for impacts on air quality to elevate mortality and add to deprivation . . .”


Severe symptoms

Air pollution has been blamed for increasing the severity of symptoms suffered by people with asthma, respiratory diseases and heart problems. New research has suggested smoke and dust emissions can impair cognitive function and are also linked to chronic conditions such as cancer and diabetes.

The study said 1,148 deaths of adults in the Republic aged over 30 years were attributable to air-pollution particles in 2011. This included 191 deaths in Dublin city, 173 in Co Dublin and 94 in Co Cork. An estimated total of 13,566 life years were lost in 2011 due to air pollution.

In Northern Ireland, 553 deaths were caused by particles in air pollution, or 3.8 per cent of all deaths. The burning of peat is associated with elevated emissions of large particulate matter throughout the midlands, where peat bogs are a local and traditional source of fuel. The burning of smokey fuels was banned in Dublin in 1990 in response to air pollution problems. The ban was extended to 26 cities and towns. In all cases, it resulted in a drop in emissions and an improvement in air; in Dublin, deaths from respiratory causes fell by 17 per cent.

Paul Cullen

Paul Cullen

Paul Cullen is Health Editor of The Irish Times