The Environmental Protection Agency has warned that a significant number of areas in Dublin city have levels of traffic related air pollution that exceed annual safe limits in the European Union.

The report, Urban Environmental Indicators: Nitrogen dioxide levels in Dublin, which details new evidence of nitrogen dioxide levels throughout the city, warns of the long-term health effects including emphysema and cellular damage to the throat and lungs as well as the development of asthma.

Nitrogen dioxide is an air pollutant strongly associated with urban areas. Its main source is from exhaust fumes from cars, buses and trucks.

Children and the elderly are particularly vulnerable to its effects.

The EPA says it now has clear evidence suggesting nitrogen dioxide is exceeding long-term EU statutory safe limits in many areas of Dublin.

The busier city centre streets, the M50, and the entrance and exit of the Dublin Port Tunnel are among the worst.

If the pollution levels are confirmed, local authorities in the Dublin area will be legally obliged to prepare air quality action plans including restricting the number of polluting vehicles in the city centre.

Modelled annual average NO2 concentrations for Dublin. The EU limit value is 40ug/m3

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The EPA's Programme Manager said the agency has given the early warning so that solutions can be worked out.

Speaking on RTÉ's Morning Ireland, Ciara McMahon said: "We felt, given the weight of the evidence from three different studies, that we wanted to give an early warning, rather than waiting until January when we have the full year of data.

"Now we can start working on it. That's why we're calling for a coordinated approach by Government, by local authorities, by transport authorities, by the EPA and the HSE to start looking together at reducing the levels of nitrogen dioxide."

Ms McMahon also said there is a role to be played by members of the public as every trip taken by car increases the level of nitrogen dioxide in the air.

Asked about how the recently announced Climate Action Plan might affect the levels of the pollutant, Ms McMahon said that many of the actions outlined in the plan, including encouraging people out of cars and onto alternative modes of transport, will help tackle the problem.

Minister for Transport, Sport and Tourism Shane Ross, and Minister for Communications, Climate Action and the Environment Richard Bruton issued a joint statement about the matter.

They said the higher levels of nitrogen dioxide are a matter for grave concern and older diesel vehicles are the biggest culprits.

The ministers also said the EPA report underlines the importance of implementing the transport related actions contained in the recently published Climate Action Plan.

These include having 180,000 electric vehicles on our roads by 2025; accelerating steps to decarbonise the public transport fleet; establishing a Cycling Project Office and rolling out 200km of new cycle lanes in Dublin; the development of a new Park and Ride Strategy; new powers for local authorities to restrict access to certain parts of the city to zero emission vehicles only; new parking pricing policies; and also stopping the sale of new fossil fuel vehicles in Ireland from 2030 onwards.

Mr Bruton said the Government will now convene the relevant bodies to take immediate action to improve the air quality in Dublin.