High levels of air pollution reported across Ireland

People in affected areas are advised to "reduce outdoor physical exertion"

Parts of Ireland are experiencing high levels of air pollution today, with main cities Dublin and Galway among the most heavily affected areas.

Of the 13 air quality monitoring stations that are located in Dublin, all stations reported an Air Quality Index for Health (AQHI) score of 10 or 'Very Poor' this afternoon, which is the lowest score on the scale.

Other stations reporting areas as suffering from poor air quality include Athlone, Waterford, Limerick and Dundalk, whilst Cork is reported as having the only recorded rating of 'Good' across the country with a score of 2.

During periods of high pollution the symptoms of people with lung or heart disease may worsen.

High levels of pollution can also cause people with asthma to use their reliever inhaler more often. Both groups are advised by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)  to avoid strenuous physical activity when ratings are 'Poor' or 'Very Poor'.

Healthy people are unlikely to experience any ill effects, although it is advised by the EPA to reduce physical activity outdoors, particularly if you experience symptoms such as a cough or sore throat. 

image: 'Very Poor' AQHI areas shown in purple, 'Fair' as orange, and 'Good' as green. Source: EPA

The high levels of pollution are believed to be as a result of local pollution sources such as road vehicles and home heating emissions combined with cold, calm weather conditions in which pollutants are not being dispersed.

When AQHI values increase in the winter, it’s generally due to a weather condition referred to as a temperature inversion. Normally, warm air sits near the ground and the air can rise easily and carry away pollutants.

During a temperature inversion however, cold air is trapped near the ground by a layer of warm air several hundred meters above it. The warm air acts like a lid, meaning pollutants can’t rise and disperse as readily, leading to higher AQHI readings.

The high levels of pollutants, known as particulate matter, or PMs, come from sources such as traffic emissions.

Ireland has several strategies, such as the smokey coal ban, to reduce air pollution in accordance with the EU Clean Air for Europe Directive, which will require Ireland to lower its average PM2.5 levels by 10 per cent by 2020, although EPA Director General Laura Burke said that:

“The EPA’s most recent greenhouse gas emission projections published in March this year, projected that Ireland would not meet its 2020 target".

The EPA ‘State of the Environment’ report released in November 2016 revealed that pollution from vehicles and burning fuels will soon be bad enough to kill as many people as tobacco, with figures in the report stating that 1,000 people in Ireland die prematurely each year as a result of air pollution.

Hourly updates of Ireland's levels of pollution can be found on the Environmental Protection Agency's website, www.epa.ie/air/quality/  along with further information.