More than 200 lives a year could be saved in Dublin if clean air guidelines adopted

Elena, Janica and Ella, students from Presentation Secondary School, Warrenmount, Dublin 8, at the launch of the Air Pollution and Mortality on the Island of Ireland report

Amy Blaney

More than 200 lives could be saved per year in Dublin if governments on both sides of the border adopt international air pollution guidelines, a new report says.

The report, commissioned by the Irish Heart Foundation, says that around 2,600 premature deaths can be attributed to air pollution annually, 1,700 in the Republic and 900 in Northern Ireland.

The study was carried out by experts from Queen’s University Belfast and Technological University Dublin.

The World Health Organisation recommends air quality guideline levels for harmful particulate matter, largely caused by the burning of solid fuels, of 5 micrograms per cubic metre.

However, the average level across Dublin is 8.4 micrograms. Health concerns were previously raised in the Dáil regarding air quality around Phibsboro, with calls to address the issue with “urgency”.

Minister for the Environment Eamon Ryan said the report shines a light on the “negative effects” of residential heating and transport on air quality.

“The report also reaffirms what I and this government have always acknowledged, there are no safe levels of air pollution,” he said. “The onus is on us to move towards the new WHO guidelines.”

Following the report, the Irish and Northern Irish heart charities are calling on both governments to collaborate to improve air quality across the island.

“We know that across the island of Ireland, poor air quality is continuing to have a detrimental impact on public health,” said Irish Heart Foundation CEO, Tim Collins.

“This report estimates there could be almost 1,000 fewer premature deaths per year attributable to air pollution on the island of Ireland if we are to achieve fine particulate matter pollution levels in line with the updated WHO guidelines.”

Tim Collins, Eamon Ryan and Fearghal McKinney at the launch of the air quality report

Mr Collins said the findings of the report make for “stark reading” and called on the governments to help households experiencing fuel poverty to lessen their reliance on solid fuels.

“We hope that decision makers on the island will utilise it to move forward with bold action on air pollution to protect our health,” he said.

Particulate matter can damage blood vessels, causing them to become narrow and cause abnormal heart rhythms and increase blood pressure. This increases the risk of heart attacks and strokes.

The new figures are based on mortality data gathered in 2019, the last year research of this type was carried out unaffected by Covid-19.