The Irish Times view on air pollution: ban all smoky fuels

The ongoing death toll and the cost of pollution to the Irish economy of an estimated €2 billion a year would appear to justify a complete ban

 

The extension by Minister for the Environment Eamon Ryan of the smoky coal ban to 13 more towns, effectively half the country, and which came into force at the start of September, was a welcome and important measure. But it’s not enough.

The original ban, introduced by junior minister Mary Harney in 1990, prohibited the sale and marketing of coal in specified areas and is reported to have reduced pollution in them by 70 per cent and to have saved some 350 lives every year since then in Dublin alone. The European Environment Agency, however, estimates the continuing premature death rate here linked to air pollution at some 1,600 a year and the Asthma Society complains the existing regime is poorly enforced.

The problem is the emission by smoky fuel – coal, peat and wood – of particulate matter nanoparticles which can penetrate deep into lungs and enter the bloodstream causing cardiovascular, cerebrovascular and respiratory impacts. Asthma sufferers – there are 380,000 in Ireland – are particularly affected. And 60 percent of the emissions are being generated by what we burn in our homes for heating.

While a private member’s motion passed in the Dáil last year calling for a national ban on smoky coal , the then government refused to comply, arguing it would provoke legal action – likely successful – from coal distributors under EU competition rules. Distributors argue that targeting coal alone, and leaving peat and wood untouched, would be unfair and discriminatory.

Logically then, the Government should prepare a complete ban on smoky materials; in the Programme for Government it has promised only to do so for coal. Yet the ongoing death toll and the cost of pollution to the Irish economy of an estimated €2 billion a year would appear to justify a complete ban.

It will not be easy or cheap – assisting will be required for those for whom a transition to other fuels will be expensive – but it is the least that can be expected from a coalition notionally committed to a green future.

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