Nobody knows exactly how many deaths are caused each year around the world by air pollution. In Ireland our levels of air pollution are well below some of our more industrialised European neighbours, but that doesn't mean there is no room for improvement.
Overall, the air quality in Ireland and Co. Wicklow is good. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) monitors air quality at a number of locations around Ireland. See airquality.ie for their sitemaps showing monitoring locations and air quality status.
Wicklow County Council has responsibility for air quality and for air emissions for all industrial/commercial activities that are not subject to integrated pollution control licensing by the EPA. Complaints of odour nuisance frequently have to be investigated. There are provisions in the Air Quality Act for serving enforcement notices requiring abatement of emissions causing nuisance.
What is air?
Air is made up of a number of gases, mostly nitrogen and oxygen, and in varying smaller amounts water vapour, carbon dioxide, and sulphur dioxide etc. Pure air that has no impurities whatsoever is a very rare thing to find even in the most remote parts of the world, which have no medium or heavy industry, mining, traffic or population.
Our smoggy past
The quantity of smoke emitted by any process or appliance will always depend on the type of fuel used and the efficiency of the burner. An open domestic fire burning household coal would be very inefficient and causes a lot of smoke. A significant reduction (70%) in the average smoke levels in winter was achieved in the Dublin area following the prohibition of the sale of bituminous coal in that area from October 1990. The burning of bituminous coal by households in open fires is now banned in all Irish cities and large towns.
Under the smokeless coal regulations there are now five designated smoke free urban areas in Co. Wicklow:
- Wicklow Town
Wicklow County Council is charged with implementing these regulations.
High smoke levels increase the incidence of respiratory problems in the young and the elderly. They also exacerbate the condition of persons already prone to respiratory problems, for example, people suffering from asthma.
One of the concerns people have now is if the huge increase of cars, trucks, buses, and other vehicles on our roads today is having an effect on our air quality - as every vehicle gives off emissions of gases that are harmful to the respiratory system. This harm is most evident in our cities with our narrow streets and congestion problems.
What can I do?
- Switch to smokeless fuel
- Switch to gas, oil or electricity for home heating
- Use less petrol: use public transport, a bike, or walk
- Don't ever burn household waste in your backyard. Cut it down with good waste management
- If you have to use cars have them serviced regularly and emissions checked