Thursday 20 September 2018

Looking to light the fire? Ban on burning of smoky coal nationwide will have 'significant impact' on public health

(Stock image)
(Stock image)
Cormac McQuinn

Cormac McQuinn

Banning the burning of smoky coal nationwide is set to save hundreds of lives and free up hospital beds, Minister Denis Naughten has said.

The ban will come into effect from September next year, with a 12-month transition period to allow for existing stocks to be depleted.

Environment minister Mr Naughten has said the move will have a "significant impact" on public health and he said he hopes a similar ban will be implemented in Northern Ireland in the future.

Mr Naughten said it was a life saving measure when the policy was implemented in Dublin 27 years ago and noted that it was extended to 25 other urban areas in 2013.

"The belief is we will see hundreds of lives saved as a direct result of a nationwide ban on smoky coal," he said.

Mr Naughten said one in five children in Ireland suffer from asthma and overall there are four deaths a day directly associated with poor air quality across all age groups.

He said that the nationwide ban on smoky coal will have an impact on the number of hospitalisations where Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD) is a "significant challenge" to the health system in terms of the number of beds being occupied.

He said the number of such cases is "equivalent of having St James’s Hospital, the biggest hospital in the country, full for four months of the year, occupying every single bed".

Mr Naughten said there's "no doubt" this measure will ease pressure on Emergency Departments and hospital beds.

He said he hopes the ban will ultimately be implemented on an all-island basis and that he will discuss the matter with his counterpart from the Northern Executive when it is re-established.

He said similar measures are being examined in England and Scotland and that Ireland will be the first country in the European Union to ban the burning of smoky coal.

A pilot scheme was launched by Mr Naughten and Irish Rural Link at the weekend to encourage people in the Midlands and the West to move to renewable fuels to heat their homes.

Mr Naughten said that solid fuel is the only source of heating in around one in five homes in the Midlands.

He said biomass alternatives to coal burn for longer at a higher temperature and while they're "slightly more expensive" there's "similar value" in the long run.

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