Air pollution has become a critical issue in Europe. The EU has recognised it has to tackle the growing public health crisis, with fine particulate matter being the chief culprit. What is known as PM2.5 is contributing to some 400,000 deaths a year, with those living in poorer urban areas most vulnerable to its insidious ability to affect almost all the body’s organs. The need to act with greater urgency is clear-cut in light of evidence of harm. Current EU limits have been shown up as inadequate.
The burning of fossil fuels in various guises is the single biggest contributor to this problem, causing a wide range of conditions including heart and lung disease, cancer, diabetes, depression, mental illness, cognitive impairment and low birth weight.
As confirmed by the latest air quality report from the Environmental Protection Agency, Ireland is at risk from PM2.5, particularly people living in larger urban areas. The most worrying finding is that last year most of Ireland did not meet the more stringent World Health Organisation guideline for PM2.5, set at 5 micrograms per cubic metre. The burning of solid fuels in domestic settings is the issue of most concern in the Republic, despite a smoky coal ban and new regulations on burning solid fuels introduced last autumn.
A Guardian investigation in collaboration with leading air pollution specialists found that 98 per cent of people in Europe are living in areas with highly damaging fine particulate pollution, exceeding WHO guidelines introduced in 2021. Using cutting-edge methodology including satellite imaging and monitoring station data, it confirms urban areas along the east coast of Ireland including Dublin, but also Cork, Waterford and Limerick, often experience elevated PM2.5 levels.
The EU – realising the public health and climate benefits from reducing PM2.5 – is going to adopt the WHO guideline by 2035. The Government has committed to doing so by 2040 under its clean air strategy. The evidence that too many people are breathing unhealthy air means a shorter timeline for its adoption is necessary.