Irish air was polluted over Easter weekend, Minister confirms

Pollutants from continental Europe also contributed to air quality breach in February

Referring to air pollution breaches, Minister for the Environment Richard Bruton said: “There was one event in February and a more significant one over the Easter weekend.” File photograph: Tom Honan

Referring to air pollution breaches, Minister for the Environment Richard Bruton said: “There was one event in February and a more significant one over the Easter weekend.” File photograph: Tom Honan

 

Agricultural activity in continental Europe is understood to have contributed to air pollution breaches in the State this year.

Minister for Environment Richard Bruton told the Dáil that “pollutants from other countries were carried into Ireland”, which contributed to numerous breaches at stations that monitor daily air pollution limits.

He said breaches of air quality by very fine particles were of significant concern.

“This year there have been two trans-boundary pollution events that affected our air quality. Pollutants from other countries were carried into Ireland.

“There was one event in February and a more significant one over the Easter weekend,” he said.

They contributed to numerous breaches at several stations that monitor daily air pollution limits.

Mr Bruton stressed that Ireland’s own “background level of pollutants is too high” and he is extending the air quality monitoring network that is run by the Environmental Protection Agency. “We need to improve our performance,” he said.

According to environmental sources, “trans-boundary” pollution, depending on wind direction at this time of year, is understood to be linked to agricultural activity ramping up in spring in continental Europe, including the use of fertilisers.

Mr Bruton was responding to questions about air pollution limit breaches and the failure to extend the ban on smoky coal in Dublin and other cities to the rest of the country.

Labour TD Joan Burton highlighted Department of Environment figures of 98 breaches of daily air pollution limits in the State since January of which 65 were in Dublin including four in Blanchardstown in her Dublin West constituency, two in the Phoenix Park and 12 in Ringsend and 11 in Enniscorthy, Co Wexford.

She said that along with a ban on smoky coal “trees, hedges and ivy should be planted” because international research had shown that even in very polluted locations they have a major effect in improving air quality.

Fianna Fáil TD James Browne highlighted the impact on towns in his Wexford constituency where smoky coal has not yet been banned.

He said the particulate breaches were the “most dangerous forms of air pollution because their microscopic size allows them to enter the bloodstream and get trapped in the lungs, resulting in respiratory and cardiac issues”.

He criticised the failure to extend the smoky coal ban because of the threat of legal action by coal companies. Mr Browne asked why they had not taken legal action in the past 30 years.

Mr Bruton insisted he was “not in any way taking fright” in relation to threatened legal action.

But, he stressed, “the nub of the issue is that the existing bans include smoky coal but exclude wood and peat”, and there was little or no difference in those two types of products.

Coal companies had threatened to challenge both the existing ban as well as any future ban on the grounds that the use of wood and peat should also be banned.

Mr Bruton said robust legal proposals were being developed and insisted he would “not be doing a service to the people of Enniscorthy or anywhere else” if he did not have legally robust proposals in place that could withstand legal challenge.