The increasing use of solid fuels such as wood chippings and peat products to heat homes is causing “extreme air pollution” in Dublin, scientists at NUI Galway have found.
The fuels, which are marketed as being “green” and “climate-friendly”, are causing “extraordinarily high levels of pollution” threatening human health, according NUIG’s centre for climate and air pollution studies (CCAPS).
It predicts smoke caused by the fuels is set to lead to a return of smog despite the early 1990s smokey-coal ban that was put in place by Mary Harney in towns and cities.
Air pollution in Dublin caused by “particulate matter” – tiny airborne smog, smoke and haze particles smaller than 2.5 microns – often surpasses the World Health Organisation’s quality guidelines (AQG).
Between November 2016 and January 2017, the daily AQG was breached on one in five days, usually in the late evening, while hourly levels were frequently 10 times higher than the 24-hour AQG threshold (25 micrograms).
This limit is stricter than current regulatory levels but “is not to be regarded as safe since health problems can still occur below such thresholds”, the researchers warn in their study in the journal Nature Sustainability.
Using technology that can track the tiniest particulates, the team led by Dr Jurgita Ovadnevaite found that 70 per cent of the pollution found during these periods is linked to peat and wood-burning.
The dramatic rise comes despite the fact that only a small percentage of homes use peat or wood as a primary fuel – just 13 per cent of households, based on the closest census data.
“All exceedances were driven by peat and wood rather than coal or oil, or even non-residential sources such as traffic,” the researchers note.