Air quality and pollution
Pollutants in the air create a variety of dangers for health and the environment. Air pollutants emitted directly from traffic, power generation or industry are known as primary pollutants. As well as causing serious problems in their immediate vicinity, primary pollutants can also travel long distances and can chemically react in the atmosphere to produce secondary pollutants such as acid rain or ozone. Certain pollutants can contribute to climate change.
Under the Air Pollution Act 1987, local authorities must take whatever measures they consider necessary to prevent or limit air pollution in their area. The owners of certain industrial plants must obtain an air pollution licence from their local authority or the EPA in order to operate certain industries that will be responsible for emissions. The EPA and local authorities have separate licensing arrangements and you do not need to apply to both of them.
The role of local authorities in preventing and combating air pollution includes:
- Monitoring of emissions or the ambient air in the area
- Assessing compliance with the relevant legislation
- Dealing with complaints with regard to air pollution
- Licensing 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 the causes, extent and prevention of air pollution
- Establishing and running educational programmes about pollution and its prevention
- Supporting or assisting anyone engaged in any research, survey or investigation into the nature and extent, the cause and effect and the prevention or limitation of air pollution
Local authorities have the power to enforce penalties for infringement of the Act. Anyone found to be in breach of the Act is guilty of an offence and can face a fine and/or imprisonment.
The Act places an onus on companies to use all practicable ways to limit (and, if possible, prevent) pollution from their premises. If a local authority considers that you are breaching the Act, it can serve a notice on you, specifying the corrective measures you must take to prevent air pollution and giving a time limit. While they are only responsible for enforcing the Act in their own area, they can prosecute premises that are polluting this area, even if the pollution is coming from a source outside of their jurisdiction.
If a local authority considers that you have ignored its warnings and recommendations, it 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. In 1990, Dublin was the first area to have a ban on the marketing, sale and distribution of bituminous fuel. The ban has since been extended to several other areas and now also includes the burning of such fuels.
All smokeless solid fuel products must be clearly labelled as "smokeless fuel". Local authorities carry out spot checks on fuel retailers to ensure compliance with the ban on marketing, sale and distribution of smoky fuel.
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.
Integrated Pollution Control
Under the Environmental Protection Agency Act 1992, the EPA is responsible for the Integrated Pollution Control (IPC) licensing of large or complex industries with significant polluting potential. It is responsible for monitoring emissions from such industries and dealing with any infringements of licence terms. Offences under the Act can result in the EPA taking companies to court. The court can impose fines and prison sentences and the EPA can revoke a company’s licence.
The EPA will only grant a licence if it is satisfied that the licence holder will do its utmost to prevent or limit any emissions from the plant. All emissions must be within set limits and must not contravene any relevant air quality standard. The register of IPC licences is publicly available.
How to apply
Application forms for air emissions licences are available from local authority websites. All air pollution data held by local authorities and the EPA is available to the public.
To complain about the marketing, sale, or distribution of prohibited fuels, or about smoky emissions from prohibited fuels in areas covered by the ban, contact the Environment section of your local authority. Complaints about the burning of unauthorised materials should also be reported to your local authority.
If you think that a company is breaking the terms of its IPC licence, or if you suspect that it does not have the correct licence, you can complain to the EPA, which will investigate the complaint and take further action, if necessary. You also have the option to take a 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.
Read more information on air quality and pollution.
Where to apply