Twenty lives a year could be saved in Co Wexford if authorities on both sides of the Border adopt international guidelines on air pollution, a new report claims.
The major all-island assessment reveals that around 2,600 premature deaths can be attributed to air pollution. This includes 1,700 in the Republic and 900 in Northern Ireland annually.
In Wexford, the data shows that 59 premature deaths a year are linked to dirty air. A total of 25 people in the county dying from heart disease as a result of air pollution.
The study, Air Pollution and Mortality on the Island of Ireland, launched by Environment Minister Eamon Ryan on Thursday (March 30th), was commissioned by the Irish Heart Foundation and British Heart Foundation Northern Ireland and compiled 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 – but the level in Wexford is 7.6 micrograms.
The charities are calling on governments on both sides of the border to collaborate to improve air quality across the whole 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 that 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 2021 WHO guideline level.
“The findings within this report (funded by a grant from The Community Foundation For Ireland), make for stark reading and serve to shed some light on the size of the problem of air pollution.
“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 called for an all-island strategy to make the WHO guidelines enforceable on both sides of the Border – and help for households experiencing fuel poverty to lessen their reliance on solid fuels to heat their homes.
“Air pollution does not respect borders, therefore, to truly improve our air quality, governments must work together with co-ordinated policy interventions and legislation to protect our health,including to completely phase out the most health-harming solid fuels and transition to cleaner, more sustainable forms of home heating,” he said.
Environment, Climate and Communications Minister, Eamon Ryan, welcomed the “valuable report”, which he said shines a spotlight on the impact of residential heating and transport on air quality.
“The report also reaffirms what I and this Government have always acknowledged – that there are no safe levels of air pollution, and taking into account all its negative effects, the onus is on us to move towards the new WHO guidelines,” he said.
Head of British Heart Foundation Northern Ireland Fearghal McKinney added that the report highlights the need for action on air pollution in order to save lives.
“Too many deaths across the island are attributable to air pollution. This report clearly shows that deaths from heart disease and strokes could be prevented by improving air quality.
“This is an issue which requires a coordinated response across the island. There is a role for governments north and south to lead on this in order to meet World Health Organisation targets.
“We were pleased to work with the Irish Heart Foundation on this report and we will continue to work together to highlight this issue and to improve health outcomes for everyone.
“I want to thank the researchers for this excellent report and I look forward to continuing to work with the Irish Heart Foundation and others to save lives.”
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.