Irish air pollution killing hundreds each year

The ‘State of the Environment’ report warns Ireland is “losing much of what is positive, beautiful and economically valuable about our environment”

Irish air pollution killing hundreds each year

A Golden Eagle flying over Glenveagh National Park, Co Donegal, Republic of Ireland Image: Haydn West PA Archive/PA Images

More than 1,000 people in Ireland die prematurely each year as a result of air pollution, according to a new report.

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has revealed that pollution from vehicles and burning fuels will soon be bad enough to kill as many people as tobacco.

The EPA ‘State of the Environment’ report has found Ireland’s environment is generally good condition - but also highlighted some serious underlying signals of concern.

The Report is produced every four years and provides an overview of the condition of the country's waters, air and natural resources and the impact of the main economic sectors on the environment.

Released today, it found Ireland has made progress in certain areas over the last 20 years - but warned the country is “still losing much of what is positive, beautiful and economically valuable about our environment.”

Laura Burke, Director General of the EPA said the Irish State and “all citizens need to act quickly to protect what we now have.”

“Overall, there are many positives in the Report and people can take heart from those,” said Ms Burke.

“But when you get into the detail, you see that at local level, there are many worrying signals warning us that we are in danger and we need to act with a much greater sense of urgency.”

She said Ireland’s air and water quality rates relatively well when compared to other European countries but warned that a “safe” level of air pollution does not exist - with more people set to die each year due to deteriorating air quality.

“A healthy environment is essential for the health of our population and for economic success,” she said.

One of the most worrying findings in the report is the dramatic reduction in the number of "pristine" rivers in Ireland, with just 21 sites now given that classification - compared to over 500 in the late 1980s.

Only half of Ireland’s protected species are currently viewed as being in a “favourable condition” with species like the Corncrake, the Curlew and the Freshwater Pearl Mussel facing extinction if habitats are not given greater protection.

Ms Burke said Climate change is the defining environmental issue of our time and warned it is “absolutely clear” that the country is, “at a crossroads and the choices we make now will have implications for the future of humanity.

“The fossil age is over,” she said. “All citizens now need to be positively engaged in the move to resource-efficiency, changing the way we work, the way we travel, heat our homes, produce our food and use our purchasing power.”

“Ireland has a great deal to gain by becoming a leader in the move to a low-carbon and resource-efficient economy. 

“Imagine an Ireland where we take great care of our natural environment and protect the water, air and land that supports a thriving economy and a healthy society.”

She said that if Ireland can capitalise on its natural advantages, the state can promote rapid decarbonisation by other countries and help reduce the costs and impacts of climate change.