Air quality lower than expected in several Irish towns
Air quality in some Irish towns could be lower than previously believed due to a lack of monitoring.
A new study funded by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) finds that while EU limits were not breached in four towns assessed in Donegal, Kerry and Meath, burning solid fuels, including smoky coal, led to an increase in air pollution.
It also found that air quality was poorer than in the capital, where there are far higher volumes of traffic.
This suggested that use of fossil fuels, including coal, to heat homes does have an impact on health.
Experts believe there is no safe exposure level in relation to pollutants. Particulate matter (PM), produced by burning fossil fuels, can cause cardiovascular and lung diseases, heart attacks and cancer.
The report says that previous studies indicated a lack of knowledge in relation to air pollution in some Irish towns, and four of these - Navan, Tralee, Killarney and Letterkenny - were assessed between 2010 and 2011.
It found that Letterkenny had the highest annual average of PMs, which was more than double that of the other towns.
This was due to almost 11pc of homes using solid fuels including coal, peat and wood to heat their homes, and 77pc using oil.
Air quality was better in Navan where 60pc of homes are heated with gas, a cleaner fuel. Just under 3.5pc use solid fuels.
The report, 'Assessing the Impact of Domestic Solid Fuel Burning on Ambient Air Quality in Ireland', found that particulate pollution levels in some of the towns were "higher than might have been anticipated".
"Higher levels were observed during the heating season in all centres, suggesting that space (home) heating is a significant contributor to the higher levels.
"Another key factor here is that, when compared with Dublin which has higher traffic densities, the observed particulate air pollution levels in the four towns cannot be attributed solely to traffic.
"In fact, the analysis suggests that space heating, in the form of coal and other solid fuel usage, is the largest contributor to the observed pollution levels."
While no legal limits were breached, levels in Tralee and Letterkenny were above World Health Organisation guidelines.
Last September, Environment Minister Alan Kelly announced that a ban on smoky coal in large built-up areas would be extended nationally over the next three years.