The Environmental Protection Agency has found that levels of certain cancer causing pollutants in Ireland are significantly above the levels recommended by the World Health Organization.

Ireland's air quality nevertheless compares favourably with other European countries.

Air pollution is associated with more than 400,000 premature deaths a year in the European Union area, making it the number one contributor to premature deaths in the EU.

On that measure, Ireland is doing relatively well, according to a report on air quality in Ireland from the EPA.

It found that overall Irish air quality compares favourably with other EU member states with the main air pollutants, such as sulphur dioxide, nitrogen dioxide, carbon monoxide, and ozone, all below EU guideline limits.

However, it warned that levels of some of these pollutants are significantly above WHO guidelines, which could soon be adopted as the new EU targets.

The report called for Irish consumers to become more aware of the impact that their choice of fuel for domestic heating can have on air quality.

It said that burning smoky coal releases particulate matter and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons into the air, both of which have the potential to cause cancer.

The EPA said there are actually higher levels of these pollutants in the air in small towns where smoky coal is allowed than there are in large cities where smoky or bituminous coal is banned.

It also said Ireland needs to develop and implement policies to reduce travel demand, emphasising sustainable transport modes such as cycling, walking and public transport, and improving the efficiency of motorised transport to reduce the impact of nitrogen dioxide in cities.