Road traffic keeps air pollutant just above EU target


Air pollution linked to road traffic in Ireland breached the specified EU emission ceiling in 2011, the Environmental Protection Agency said yesterday.

High nitrogen oxide emissions can pose a threat to human health as a respiratory irritant, particularly in people with asthma. The road transport sector is the largest source of nitrogen oxide emissions, accounting for 55 per cent of the total in 2011.

Nitrogen oxide emissions fell 47 per cent between 1990 and 2011 as a result of stricter EU standards for emissions from cars and heavy-duty vehicles in combination with the economic downturn in recent years.

However, the EPA said advances in emission controls were “largely offset” by increases in vehicle numbers and fuel use during the boom. “Reducing NOx emissions requires travelling less by car as well as the uptake of new vehicles with improved emission control technologies,” the agency said.

Power generation

In the power generation sector, the agency said a substantial reduction in nitrogen oxide emissions had been achieved as a result of emission control technology and fuel-switching from oil to gas and renewable energy.

EPA senior manager Dr Eimear Cotter said: “The key to decreasing nitrogen oxide emissions lies in reducing travel and incentivising the purchase of cleaner vehicles with improved emission controls. Changing behavioural patterns in these two areas will reduce emissions so contributing to a cleaner, healthier environment and a better quality of life.”

The agency’s figures show that levels of sulphur dioxide, volatile organic compounds and ammonia, the other three main air pollutants, were below the EU emission ceilings.

The main sources of these emissions are power generation, residential and commercial sectors for sulphur dioxide; solvent use and transport for volatile organic compounds; and agriculture for ammonia.

There have been significant reductions in these three pollutants since 1999 on the back of a diverse range of measures including more effective licensing and enforcement by the EPA, stricter regulation of emissions of volatile organic compounds from vehicles and declining animal numbers in the agriculture sector.

Below EU ceiling

Dr Cotter said: “The switch to low sulphur fuels and low solvent products such as paints is welcome, and has kept Ireland below EU emission ceilings for sulphur dioxide and volatile organic compounds.

“Ammonia emissions have stayed reasonably constant since 1990. However, ambitious targets under Food Harvest 2020 could put pressure on ammonia emissions into the future.”

Bad air: Main offenders

Nitrogen Oxides

Main sources: road transport, power generation

2011 level: 67.6 kilotonnes (kt)

EU target ceiling: 65 kt

Sulphur Dioxide

Main sources: power generation, industrial and domestic combustion.

2011 level: 23.4kt;

EU target ceiling: 42 kt

Volatile Organic Compounds

Main sources: solvent use, transport sector

2011 level: 43.6kt;

EU target ceiling: 55kt


Main sources: animal manure, nitrogen fertilisers.

2011 level: 108.7kt;

EU target ceiling: 116kt

See it? Say it! app

The Environmental Protection Agency has launched an app to help people to report environmental pollution.

The See it? Say it! app allows users to take photographs of suspected pollution incidents, input the GPS location co-ordinates and send them to the relevant local authority for investigation.

The app was developed by Dublin-based Fusio and is designed to complement the agency’s 24-hour complaints phoneline. It is available only for iPhones, but an Android version is on the way.

The app can be used to report issues such as backyard burning, illegal dumping, water pollution, odours and littering.

Programme manager David Flynn said the agency wanted to make it easy for people who saw something to say something.

“This app is another way for people to report environmental pollution incidents and we hope they will download and use the app’s simple reporting methods to protect their local areas.”

Joe Crockett of the county and city managers’ association said: “The inclusion of GPS co-ordinates and photo imagery – and accurate information on location – will greatly assist environment enforcement officers to rapidly respond to reported environmental complaints.”