The Environmental Protection Agency has called for the adoption of stricter legally enforceable air quality guidelines across Europe and in Ireland.

EPA Director General Laura Burke has said that air pollution was responsible for approximately 1,500 premature deaths in Ireland each year.

She said that it had become increasingly clear that there were no safe levels of pollutants.

The agency has published a new national ambient air quality programme involving 38 automatic monitoring stations to provide enhanced real-time information to the public.

Burning solid fuel is the biggest threat to good air quality in Ireland, followed closely by the exhaust fumes emitted by vehicles, according to the EPA’s latest annual air quality report.

The report said that the levels of particulate matter, or microscopic particles of pollution dust, in Irish air was of growing concern.

It said this was especially true during the winter when people's fuel choices can directly impact on air quality in small towns and villages around the country where the smokey coal ban is not in place.

The agency also said that urban areas could potentially exceed nitrogen dioxide limit values unless there was a reduction on the dependence on private motor cars.

The EPA found that although Ireland did not exceed any EU air quality limits in 2016, particulate matter, ozone, nitrogen dioxide and sulphur dioxide levels were recorded above the World Health Organisation’s guidelines at a number of monitoring stations.

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Air Quality in Ireland 2016

National Ambient Air Quality Monitoring Programme 2017-2022