Impact of burning smoky coal on air quality in Letterkenny highlighted

"Smoky coal ban is a really positive initiative "

Impact of burning smoky coal on air quality in Letterkenny highlighted

Graphs taken from the Letterkenny Air Quality station

Now that we have entered the heating season, Donegal County Council is reminding householders in the Letterkenny and environs area that there is a ban on the burning of Smoky Coal.

With real time air quality information at our fingertips on the public can see the impacts that burning smoky coal is having on the air quality in the area.

The Environmental Protection Agency manages the national ambient air quality monitoring network and, in association with Donegal County Council, installed and commissioned the air quality station in Letterkenny in May 2019. This station now provides automated, provisional results for Particulate matter (PM 10, PM2.5) and Sulfur Dioxide (SO2).

In Donegal, Particulate matter (PM 10, PM2.5) coming from the burning of solid fuel for home heating is the main cause of poor air quality and it impacts on health through disorders of the heart and lungs.

Dr Laura Heavey, specialist registrar in public health medicine, says: “The smoky coal ban is a really positive initiative to improve the health of people in Donegal. We know that air pollution increases symptoms and hospital admissions for those with asthma, COPD and other lung diseases. It can also trigger heart attacks and strokes, through damage to the blood vessel walls.

“New reports from the World Health Organisation are now linking long term exposure to air pollution to other health issues, like dementia, Parkinson’s disease and neuro-developmental disorders in children. Air pollution has also been linked to poor pregnancy outcomes, such as low birth weight babies,” explains Dr. Heavey.

She adds: “Dublin city imposed a smoky coal ban back in 1990. Dr Luke Clancy, a respiratory physician in Dublin, has calculated that the ban saved 369 lives per year in Dublin, based on rates of heart and lung disease before and after the ban. If everyone in Letterkenny complies with the ban, we could see a similar impact here on the health of people in Donegal.”

Graphs taken from the Letterkenny Air Quality station, show a two week period in June and a two week period in mid-October and it is clear to see that there were no breaches of either limit during the two weeks in June, (left hand side), while the change to colder autumn weather around mid-October has seen seven breaches of the PM10 limit and 12 breaches of the PM2.5 limit over two weekends. These breaches are linked to the burning of fossil fuels because the influence of traffic is expected to be much reduced at weekends.

Suzanne Bogan, waste awareness officer with the council is urging householders to use longer lasting low smoke fuels over the winter months.

“You can make a difference over the winter burning season by using longer lasting low smoke fuels, such as low smoke coal or wood, kindling, fire logs, fire starter logs; or turf or turf products.

“If using low smoke coal make sure that the bags are clearly labelled low smoke coal, smokeless fuel or approved fuel.”

Householders are obliged to comply with the smoky coal ban when burning fuel and should discuss the many different types of low smoke fuels that are available with their local coal merchant.

The other key part of this legislation is that coal retailers and coal merchants are not permitted to market, sell or distribute smoky coal inside the ban area. Donegal County Council will be working with the Revenue Commissioners, in a multi-agency enforcement initiative, focusing on the coal retail / merchant sector. This will involve the inspection of delivery lorries and new legislation has also made provision for fixed penalty notices for breaches of the legislation within the coal sector ranging from €250 - €1,000.

“It is important to remember that the sole purpose of this law is to deliver cleaner air” says Suzanne Bogan and “it is only through the continued support of householders, coal retailers and merchants that improvements in air quality will continue”.

For more information or to report a breach of the law contact Donegal County Council on (074) 9153900 or visit or visit .

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