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New ban to fully extinguish traditional coal fires

THE DAYS of coal fires burning merrily in the hearth could be numbered.

Homeowners face the prospect of being forced to use smokeless fuel under a new ban on traditional coal proposed by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) yesterday.

And the Department of the Environment said it would support the move, if agreement could be reached with coal importers and with local authorities.

If implemented, the ban will result in higher fuel costs for households.

A 40kg bag of traditional coal costs about €16. Smokeless coal costs on average €2.50 more per bag.

Burning traditional bituminous coal produces sulphur dioxide (SO2), which can result in breathing difficulties for those who suffer from respiratory conditions such as asthma. It also leads to production of acid rain, which can affect soil and water quality and corrode buildings.

The fuel has been banned in Dublin since 1990 following concerns about air quality. The ban was later extended to 15 other towns and cities including Cork, Limerick, Galway, Dundalk, Drogheda and Bray.

The ban covers 40pc of the population, but a major report published yesterday shows that air quality is better in towns and cities when bituminous coal is banned.

The public should "consider" their use of the fuel to help protect the environment, the EPA said, adding that financial pressures could force people to switch to more polluting fuels.

"This may lead to elevated levels of SO2 particularly in towns where there is no ban on the sale of bituminous coal," it said. "The EPA asks the public to consider the impact that their choice of domestic heating fuel can have on the environment and air quality.

"An extension of the ban to other areas would further improve air quality."

An agreement between the Department of the Environment and the Solid Fuel Trade Group (SFTG), which represents importers, limits the amount of sulphur that is present in the traditional coal.

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The department said it would support an outright ban, subject to consultation with interested parties, including local authorities and the SFTG.

But the industry lobby group, while not ruling out the move, said a ban might lead to imports of more-polluting coal from Northern Ireland and the UK.

"Extending the ban may not cure the problem (of air quality)," a SFTG spokesman said.

"There is evidence of significant quantities of coal being imported. A ban may increase the likelihood of more being imported."

The EPA Air Quality Report in Ireland 2009 found that overall our air quality is good, but that emissions from traffic continue to pose a problem.

Quality is "well above" the EU average, due to prevailing Atlantic airflows, relatively few large cities and the lack of widespread heavy industries.

But pollution from traffic "remains a concern", particularly in Dublin and Cork, it added.

Widespread burning of traditional bituminous coal led to winter smog every year, where smoke and sulphur dioxide emissions led to serious health problems, particularly among the elderly and in people suffering from respiratory diseases.

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