Just 11 sites generate 80pc of air quality complaints

The EPA has taken legal action against five companies which breached the terms of their licences and exceeded safe limits governing air quality. Thinkstock Images

Paul Melia

JUST a dozen industrial sites are responsible for more than 80pc of all complaints made to the environmental watchdog about noise and odour.

And the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has taken legal action against five companies which breached the terms of their licences and exceeded safe limits governing air quality.

Two reports on air quality, to be published today, show that while Ireland's air quality is of a high standard, there are concerns about the burning of coal and peat in open fires with road traffic volumes also leading to poor air quality in urban areas.

Some 1,088 complaints about air quality, noise or odour were made in 2013, the EPA said.

Of these, 706 referenced 11 specific sites, and most complaints were in relation to waste activities and food and drink production.

The 'Air Quality in Ireland' report says that while we have among the least-polluted air in Europe, it remains "at risk".

"The findings on wider air quality are very encouraging," EPA director Gerard O'Leary said. "I would urge people, however, to consider air quality when making choices about home heating and transport, as both of these activities can have a negative impact on air quality.

"The enforcement activities of the EPA over the last 20 years have resulted in a robust and mature compliance regime for industrial activities, and we are pleased with the high rates of compliance. But we need to be vigilant."

Where complaints investigated were not addressed, further action was taken, the report said. Some 71 compliance investigations were undertaken, of which 26 remain under investigation.

Five prosecutions were taken against companies, and against four individual company directors.

One company, Greyhound Recycling and Recovery in Dublin 22, was fined €47,500 following complaints about odour. Another company, PPI Adhesive Products in Waterford, was fined €34,077 for breaches of emission limits, while the Arrow Group in Kildare was fined €32,500.

Gortadroma landfill in Limerick was fined €7,960 while Inagh landfill in Clare was hit with a fine of €8,700.

A lack of proper training and a lack, or failure, of equipment were the likely root causes of most complaints.

Chemifloc Ltd and Irish Country Meats (Sheepmeat) in Navan were subjected to four complaints each last year.

The report finds that World Health Organisation limits for certain chemicals are being breached, which will require "collaboration" across a range of policy areas, including transport, energy and spatial planning.

Ireland is obliged to reduce exposure to fine particulate matter, found in smoke and haze, by 10pc by 2020 under EU rules. This will involve action across a range of areas.

"The choices we make as consumers about how we heat our homes and travel to work and school will also affect our local air quality," EPA air quality manager Patrick Kenny said.

Poor air quality is associated with as many as 400,000 premature deaths a year across the EU. Air pollution causes an increased risk of heart attacks, asthma, stroke and diabetes.

Some 660 of 684 samples were compliant with emission standards as set out in licences granted by the EPA, with the 24 non-compliances relating to the emissions across 22 sites.

Some 877 complaints from the public about odour related to 12 sites.