The Minister for the Environment, Climate and Communications, Eamon Ryan TD, today took the first step towards a nationwide ban on the sale and burning of smoky coal and the regulation of other fuels, as part of a drive to combat air pollution and protect public health.
The Minister launched a public consultation to seek views on the further regulation of solid fuel use for domestic home heating, and is inviting the public, health professionals, other experts, NGOs and those involved in the industry to give their views on how Ireland can design and implement rules that will save lives.
Minister Ryan said:
“Clean air is fundamental to our health and quality of life, and is essential for the health of the environment on which we depend. People have no choice about the air they breathe. We as Government have an important role to develop the policies that will deliver cleaner air. It is my intention to bring in a nationwide ban on smoky coal and regulate other fuels as soon as possible.”
Under current regulations the sale, marketing, distribution and burning of bituminous (smoky) coal is not permitted in specific low smoke zones (LSZs) across the country. These apply in our cities and all towns with populations in excess of 10,000 people. There is a commitment in the Programme for Government to work towards a national extension of this ban over the term of government, and the consultation launched today is the first part of that process.
The consultation also seeks views on the regulation of all solid fuels such as peat, turf, and wood which would improve air quality for the benefit of all. The European Environment Agency report Air Quality in Europe 2020 indicates that in 2018, there were 1,410 premature mortalities arising from air pollution in Ireland. The vast majority of these (1,300) were attributable to emissions of fine particulate matter (PM2.5) which result mainly from the burning of solid fuels.
One example of a measure that could be taken is to introduce a maximum moisture content level at which wood be can sold. Wood with high moisture content (wet wood) is significantly more polluting than wood with low moisture content (dry wood).
EPA research shows that the contribution of peat to air pollution levels is significant. Consideration needs to be given to options which may restrict the sale and marketing of sod turf, while respecting the traditional practice of turf cutting for personal use only.
The public consultation aims to:
- assess the merits of a national approach to regulating solid fuel;
- determine which solid fuels should be regulated;
- consider how these fuels should be regulated; and
- set out an appropriate timeline for implementation of any new regulations.
While it was originally intended to launch this public consultation alongside the publication of the forthcoming National Clean Air Strategy (CAS), Minister Ryan has now chosen to progress it ahead of the Strategy. This is in recognition of the urgency of taking action on the further regulation of solid fuels. The decision will also allow submissions received during the public consultation process to feed into the Strategy, as the use of solid fuels is one of the most important considerations in Ireland’s ambition to achieve cleaner air overall.
Minister Ryan said:
“I am pleased to launch this public consultation, which will inform the development of a comprehensive national regulatory approach to solid fuel burning for home heating, to help us achieve our ambition of cleaner air all across Ireland.
“This consultation is an opportunity for everyone to consider the issues, input to the process, provide supporting information and data where possible, and make suggestions on the best manner of regulating the use of solid fuel for domestic heating.
“I am conscious that for some people burning solid fuel is the main or only way they have of heating their homes. Our goal over the lifetime of this government is to provide support to retrofit many of these homes, but in the meantime we want to ensure they can be heated in a way that improves public health.”
The SEAI publishes a Domestic Fuels Comparison of Energy Costs report every three months, and the most recent shows that low smoke coal (ovoids) is the most cost-efficient choice of coal in terms of heat delivered per cent.
The consultation document and submission options are available on gov.ie.
The public consultation will close at 5.30 p.m. on Friday 2 April 2021.
Notes to the Editor
DECC will be intensifying our public engagement around the consultation in the coming weeks on the DECC social media channels, through a national radio ad campaign and through online Town Halls to be announced shortly. Members of the public are asked to choose the lowest-smoke fuel they can and breathe the difference.
Health impacts of solid fuel use
Air quality is a major concern at a global level and is considered the most significant environmental risk to human health. Since the 1990s, medical research has demonstrated links between air pollution and both short and long-term health impacts, including headache, breathing difficulty, eye irritation, and exacerbation of respiratory conditions and increased levels of strokes, cancer, and respiratory and cardiovascular disease.
The European Environment Agency report Air Quality in Europe 2020 indicates that in 2018, there were 1,410 premature mortalities arising from air pollution in Ireland. The vast majority of these (1,300) were attributable to fine particulate matter (PM2.5). The same report indicates 16,200 Years of Life Lost, indicating significantly earlier mortality for those deaths.
Regulation of solid fuel is a recognised means of addressing this.
Research indicates that the introduction of the “smoky coal ban” in Dublin in 1990 has resulted in approximately 350 fewer mortalities per year, reducing cardiovascular, cerebrovascular and respiratory mortality in the general population.
Costs of solid fuels
People have to heat their homes and concern is expressed sometimes about the cost impact of further solid fuel regulation on lower income households who cannot afford to upgrade their heating systems. However, the SEAI publishes a Domestic Fuels Comparison of Energy Costs report every three months, and the most recent shows that low smoke coal (ovoids) is the most cost-efficient choice of coal in terms of heat delivered per cent, and the second most cost-efficient overall:
Premium Coal (bag)
Standard Coal (bag)
Low Smoke Ovoids (bag)
Existing regulations on low smoke zones and national extension
The current low smoke zones currently apply in the following areas:
Arklow, Drogheda, Dundalk, Limerick, Wexford
Celbridge, Galway, Leixlip, Naas, Waterford
Bray, Kilkenny, Sligo, Tralee
Athlone, Carlow, Clonmel, Ennis
Greystones, Letterkenny, Mullingar, Navan, Newbridge, Portlaoise, Wicklow (and Rathnew)
Ashbourne, Ballina, Carrigtwohill, Castlebar, Cavan, Cobh, Enniscorthy, Killarney, Longford, Mallow, Midleton, Tramore, Tullamore
 According to 2016 Census
4 Dating from January 1st, 2021