Health impact of pollution in Ireland remains a burning issue

Last month, a study published by the Lancet found that nine million people die each year health issues associated with pollution.

A landmark study published by The Lancet in May found that pollution was responsible for a staggering one in six deaths worldwide last year, a figure that has not changed since a similar analysis was done in 2015.

Ireland is not immune from the health impact of pollution. Every year, 1,300 deaths in Ireland are attributed to Particulate Matter 2.5 (PM2.5), while 50 are attributed to nitrogen dioxide. This costs the country €2 billion annually, a figure that will only increase as pollution makes the environment more hazardous, say experts.

“Air pollution and climate change are deeply intertwined,” said Clare Noone, a Senior Post-Doctoral Researcher in Maynooth University’s Irish Climate Analysis and Research Unit, speaking with IMT.

“The same things are causing both. Unless you move to clean energy, they’re both going to keep getting worse – there’s no doubt about that.”

At present, Ireland is not reaching goals for emission reductions. According to data compiled by the MaREI Research Centre for Energy, Climate and Marine at UCC, Ireland missed its emission targets in 2021.

In 2020, research published by the RCSI suggested that an increase in strokes seen in Dublin may have been the result of air pollution, largely caused by turf. Another study found that a small number of households burning turf cause 70 per cent of air pollution events.

“Turf burning isn’t going to improve people’s health, it’s not going to improve air quality or climate change,” added Noone. “It’s a tradition that does more harm than good.”

Current policies do not give enough support to people who want to make environmentally friendly choices, or better choices for their health: “People are trying to do the right thing, and the government needs to support them – promoting of cycle lanes, retrofitting homes, proper infrastructure, as well as cheap and affordable public transport.”

Restrictions on burning certain fuels have worked in the past: Dublin’s 1990 ‘smoky coal ban’ are understood to save up to 350 lives per year. Cardiovascular, cerebrovascular, and respiratory mortality have also reduced in the general population.

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