Pollutants in the air can be bad for people’s health and the environment. Air pollutants released from traffic, power generation or industry are known as primary pollutants. These primary pollutants can cause serious problems in the immediate area, but can also travel long distances and react in the atmosphere to produce secondary pollutants such as acid rain. Certain pollutants can contribute to climate change.
Air quality standards are set out in EU and Irish legislation. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) monitors various air pollutants in Ireland to ensure we meet these standards. Ireland is committed to the EU’s National Emission Ceilings Directive, which sets out emission reduction targets for 2020 and 2030 for the five main air pollutants.
Who monitors air pollution?
Under the Air Pollution Act 1987, local authorities must take whatever measures they consider necessary to prevent or limit air pollution in their area.
- Monitoring of emissions or the ambient air in the area
- Assessing compliance with the relevant legislation
- Dealing with complaints about air pollution
- Dealing with applications for air emission licences for certain categories of industry
- Enforcing the ban on the marketing, distribution sale and burning of certain fuel (usually bituminous coal)
- Organising and conducting research into air pollution
- Establishing and running educational programmes about pollution and its prevention
- Supporting anyone engaged in research into air pollution
The owners of certain industrial plants must get an air pollution licence from their local authority or the EPA if their work will lead to emissions. The EPA and local authorities have separate licensing arrangements and you do not need to apply to both of them. See ‘Air emissions licences’ and ‘Environmental licences for large industry’ below for more information.
If you break the rules set out in the Air Pollution Act 1987 you are guilty of an offence and can be fined and imprisoned. Local authorities are responsible for enforcing the Act in their area and can prosecute premises that are polluting the area. They can do this even if the pollution is coming from a source outside their area.
Under the Act companies are responsible for limiting or preventing pollution from their premises. If a local authority thinks a company is breaking these rules, it can serve a notice on the company. This notice will specify what steps the company must take to prevent air pollution and a time limit for them to implement this.
If the company ignores the local authorities warnings and recommendations, the local authority can take a case directly to the High Court. This Court can issue an injunction, allowing the local authority to deal with the situation immediately. This option can be used if the local authority considers that there is a serious risk to public health or the environment.
Special control areas and smoky fuel ban
A local authority can declare an area to be a special control area in order to prevent or limit air pollution.
The sale, marketing, distribution and burning of smoky (bituminous) coal is banned in all cities and towns with a population of more than 10,000 people. All smokeless solid fuel products must be clearly labelled as "smokeless fuel". Local authorities carry out spot checks on fuel retailers to ensure they are complying with the ban.
Burning of waste
It is illegal to burn household or garden waste, either at home or in your garden. Read more in our document on burning household waste.
Air emissions licences
As some industrial processes have the potential to cause major emissions, you may need an air emissions licence. The application form for an air emissions licence is available from your local authority’s website.
You will be asked to provide information on where the emissions will take place and to place a notice in a local newspaper to inform local residents.
All air pollution data held by local authorities is available to the public.
Environmental licences for large industry
Under the Environmental Protection Agency Act 1992, large or complex industries with significant polluting potential must apply to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) for an Integrated Pollution Control (IPC) licence.
The EPA will only grant a licence if it is satisfied that the licence holder will do their best to prevent or limit any emissions from their plant. All emissions must be within set limits and must not break any relevant air quality standard. The register of IPC licences is available to the public.
The EPA monitors the emissions from these industries and ensures that they comply with the terms of their licence. The EPA can revoke a company’s licence and take them to court if they break the licence terms. The court can impose fines and prison sentences.
How do I make a complaint about air pollution?
You should contact your local authority if you have a complaint about:
- The marketing, sale or distribution of prohibited fuels
- Smoky emissions from prohibited fuels in areas covered by the ban
- The burning of unauthorised materials
You can make a complaint to the EPA if you think a company is breaking the terms of their IPC licence, or you suspect that they do not have the correct licence. The EPA will investigate the complaint and take further action, if necessary. Alternatively, you can take the company to court, but this option can be costly.
Read more about making an environmental complaint.
The EPA’s website has detailed information on air quality standards and monitoring, including the target values and long-term objectives of the relevant EU Directives.
Further information on the EPA website includes the Air Quality Index for Health (AQIH). This provides air quality information with health advice for the general public and for people sensitive to air pollution.