Is Our National Air Pollution Control Plan Out of Control?

There’s a whiff of inadequacy and low ambition about our Government’s draft National Air Pollution Control Plan. We need a more citizen’s welfare centred approach. Luckily the EU mandates public scrutiny and comment on draft plans. We took that opportunity with both lungs. We recommend you do also.

NAPCP Plan needs more ambition.

So we made a detailed submission (prepared by a team of ZWAI members on 22 January 2021) to the Air Quality Team at the Department of the Environment, Climate and Communications (DECC) in response to the recent public consultation on the draft National Air Pollution Control Plan. The submission was drafted by a dedicated team of volunteers to highlight our growing concerns on the deteriorating air quality situation in Ireland and the worsening prospects that planned incineration facilities will wreck on us all.

The full text of our submission is available here. We are happy for any like minded organizations to quote from and make use of it. In the spirit of reuse and recycling we hope to save others the research effort and time involved in such undertakings.


The consultation requested comments on a draft National Air Pollution ControlPlan (NAPCP), prepared by the Air Quality Team in the DECC, required to keep Ireland in compliance with the National Emissions Ceilings Directive (NEC Directive 2016/2284/EU), which entered into force on 31 December 2016.

This key Directive establishes emission ceilings for the years 2020 and 2030 for five specified air pollutants which have damaging effects on peoples’ health: nitrogen oxides (NOx), non-methane volatile organic compounds (NMVOCs), sulphur dioxide (SO2), ammonia (NH3) and fine particulate matter (PM2.5). The 2016 NEC Directive demands more ambitious air pollution reduction commitments, designed to reduce the health impacts of air pollution by half compared with 2005. It also requires each Member State to establish a National Air Pollution Control Programme (NAPCP). Under this obligation, the draft NAPCP issued by the Department of the Environment, Climate and Communications describes the pathway Ireland should follow in order to achieve compliance with the country’s commitments under the NEC Directive. The actual format of the NAPCP plan is prescribed by the European Commission implementing decision (EU) 2018/1522, which was adopted on 11 October 2018.

Our approach

In responding to the public consultation, Zero Waste Alliance Ireland (ZWAI) emphasised that

Air pollution is one of the principal environmental risks to human health in the world.

European exposure to air pollution was responsible for more than 410,000 estimated early deaths in 2016.

Children are particularly at risk

Research undertaken last year has provided evidence that air pollution is linked to significantly higher rates of death among people infected with Covid-19.

Take a deep breath while you contemplate some of the principal concerns and suggestions in the ZWAI submission :

  1. URGENCY : The draft NAPCP does not place sufficient emphasis on the urgent need to consider human health as one of the principal reasons for reducing air pollution and improving air quality; and the programme is very weak on the urgent need to establish a greatly improved monitoring network, and to identify at small-scale local level a statistically robust relationship between air quality and human health and well-being, as measured by public health data.
  2. PM2.5 ISSUES: ZWAI welcomes the statements that “PM2.5 is the key driver of health impacts from air pollution” and that “there are no ‘safe’ levels of air pollution from a health perspective”; but the submission expressed disappointment that emissions of PM2.5 from large industrial plants were not mentioned;
  3. CONSENT WITHOLDING: The ZWAI submission advocates that the NAPCP should specifically state that the competent authorities (An Bord Pleanála and the Environmental Protection Agency) who grant consents for industrial plants, and also have the responsibility to attach conditions to these consents, and (in the case of the EPA) have the responsibility of monitoring atmospheric emissions from them, should withhold consent until it can be shown conclusively, based on scientific and epidemiological evidence, that current emissions are not causing harm to the population, and that future emissions will not cause harm;
  4. MODELING ISSUE: The ZWAI submission provided evidence that modelling of existing and proposed emissions to atmosphere by some industrial plants have been found to lack essential information, are based on inadequate data, and therefore provide results which fail to safeguard human health;
  5. DUBIOUS DATA : The ZWAI submission provided a relevant example of a case study showing that an industrial applicant for a licence which would permit emissions to the atmosphere did not always provide accurate information; and, in some cases, provided misleading information;
  6. TIGHTER REGIME: The ZWAI submission advocates strongly that a much tighter regime of air pollution control of industrial emissions – both proposed emissions and existing emissions – should be included as a matter of policy in the final revised National Air Pollution Control Programme. Remember that the Environmental Protection Agency can operate only within the framework of Government policy; and, if that policy is weak, the Agency is unable (or less willing) to impose more stringent conditions on industrial emitters and subject them to more frequent and detailed monitoring;
  7. AVERAGING MASKS PEAKS: The ZWAI submission pointed out that using average emission limit values as a means of monitoring and controlling industrial emissions to atmosphere is totally inadequate, as these averages mask high-risk emission spikes; and such spikes have been identified in the Mungret area of Limerick, in the vicinity of a cement production plant;
  8. EXCESSIVE EXPOSURES: The submission stated that exposing members of the public, or allowing members of the public to be exposed, to significant, short-duration (i.e., less than 24hr), exceedances of World Health Organisation guidelines should not be permitted;
  9. CONSTANT Pollution monitoring: The ZWAI submission pointed out that continuous independent air pollution monitoring is vitally necessary. The results should be available in real time for local citizens and other interested people and groups to view and examine; anything less is inadequate;
  10. CATER FOR CITIZEN SCIENCE: The submission advised that “Citizen Science” can play an important and valuable role in the monitoring of air pollution; and the value and acceptability of citizen science is well recognised in other EU Member States;
  11. CYCLING OVERLOOKED : Given the important role of cycling in reducing car dependency and improving air quality in towns and cities, we found it extraordinary and unexplainable that the draft NAPCP fails to mention the urgent need to provide the necessary cycling infrastructure. The report merely acknowledges that “there may be a shift to cycling/walking as people avoid mass transit modes” as a result of the COVID-19 response;
  12. CYCLEWAYS: ZWAI recommended that streets be retrofitted with safe cycleways, in particular, to connect residential areas to schools and shopping areas, and to encourage commuting by bicycle;
  13. LOCAL AUTHORITY FAILURES: ZWAI expressed serious concern that many local authorities have failed to provide cycling infrastructure, have failed to communicate with other state agencies, failed to apply for EU Interreg funding, and have not embarked on serious investment programmes to promote and encourage walking and cycling;
  14. CYCLING ADVOCACY groups ignored by LAs: We cited cases where cycling advocacy groups have been ignored by local authorities, or the local authorities were reluctant to engage in discussions with cycling advocacy groups – a response which can only lead to continuing car dependency with resulting adverse impacts on air quality and public health;
  15. PRO-ACTIVE EPA: We considered that it was essential for the EPA to become more pro-active in ensuring that holders of Industrial Emissions licenses are complying with conditions and regulations; self-monitoring and self-regulation do not work to the advantage of either the environment or local inhabitants who are exposed to atmospheric emissions from licensed industrial plants;
  16. REMOVE EPA BLANKET IMMUNITY: The ZWAI submission stated that the EPA’s current blanket statutory immunity when carrying out its functions is difficult to justify in a modern context and should be revised; this immunity is likely to be inconsistent with the State’s obligation under Article 40.3 to defend and vindicate the citizen’s personal rights; and we advocate that this immunity should be removed;
  17. PUBLIC RIGHT: Zero Waste Alliance Ireland stated that a public right to a clean environment, i.e., to an environment “that is consistent with the human dignity and well-being of citizens”, and is also “an essential condition for the fulfilment of all human rights”, is now a justiciable right; which means that it can be enforced in the Courts.
  18. LEGAL PROCEEDINGS JUSTIFIED TO VINDICATE RIGHTS: The right to a clean environment, as defined in a recent High Court and Supreme Court case is an appropriate ground for taking proceedings against a Government Department or Agency which fails to uphold that right.