Air Pollution Bill, 1986 [ Seanad ]: Second Stage (Resumed).

Question again proposed: "That the Bill be now read a Second Time."

I very much welcome this Bill and support its overall provisions which are to control and reduce the very serious air pollution problem that now exists in Ireland, particularly in the main population centres. Since the Second Stage was moved on 24 March there have been many contributions to the debate highlighting the very serious levels of pollution and the greater health problems which this pollution has given rise to. There has also been much comment in the press in relation to this matter and many scientific and medical reports have been analysed, from which it can reasonably be concluded that people who suffered from respiratory diseases have actually died when air pollution levels have been very high. In addition a great deal of illness has been caused during the winter months, particularly when certain climatic conditions have obtained. This matter needs to be tackled urgently and effectively. While this Bill sets about providing a framework, it lacks some of the punch necessary to have this serious problem resolved quickly and effectively.

Previous speakers have pointed out their concern that this is enabling legislation which will empower local authorities to take certain actions to control air pollution in their areas. I am worried about the commitment on the part of local authorities to taking required action speedily, due to financial constraints or the low priority they would give to such action. Some local authorities do not have a good record on environmental pollution generally and I should like the Minister to bring in a Bill directing the local authorities on what action to take to tackle the air pollution problems in their areas.

The primary reason for urgent legislation in this area is the serious health aspect involved. The provisions of the Bill should ensure that many of our fine public buildings and monuments are protected from the ravages of pollution.

My main concern in regard to the Bill is the health of those who live in areas where pollution is very high.

An article in last Thursday's issue of The Irish Times outlined the findings of two doctors and they gave me cause for concern. Their report was first published in the Irish Medical Journal in 1984 and the main point of it was that, due to climatic conditions in Dublin in 1982, elderly people were admitted to St. James's Hospital with cardiac respiratory problems at a higher rate than normal. Many of those patients did not respond to treatment as well as they normally would. According to the article there were 120 deaths at the hospital in January 1982 compared to an average monthly death rate of 54 and an average January death rate of 64. Between 14 and 20 January 1982 there were 39 deaths and, significantly, those deaths occurred at a time when high levels of air pollution were recorded in Dublin. The article clearly showed the effects of the combination of high levels of pollution and the climatic conditions which obtained at that time, a condition known as temperature inversion where a layer of cold air traps hot air and prevents it from rising. In such conditions smoke particles are retained at a low level and consequently people are affected adversely.

It would appear that, given our high level of air pollution, we are fortunate that that type of climatic condition does not occur regularly. Otherwise our annual death rate would be much higher. I understand that the use of coal has increased by 150 per cent in the past 10 years and that has given rise to a huge build up of sulphur dioxide and smoke particles in the built up urban areas such as Ballyfermot in my constituency which contains approximately 6,000 houses. It is a high density area and there is a high concentration of open fires. The total smoke load in the Dublin area is 16,000 tonnes and about 80 per cent of that comes from domestic sources. It is well documented that several of the city's monitoring stations have recorded smoke levels far in excess of EC limits which are 250 microgrammes per cubic metre. Those limits are also accepted by the World Health Organisation as an upper limit which should not be breached.

Medical opinion is that exposure to smoke levels in excess of those limits gives rise to respiratory problems and can, ultimately, lead to death. One of the highest levels of smoke ever recorded was in Ballyfermot on 31 January 1987 when the level reached 1,429 microgrammes per cubic metre or five times the daily permitted EC limit. That statistic has been mentioned by other speakers from that constituency but I do not make any apology for repeating it because action must be taken to ensure that such a level of pollution does not occur in the future. Pollution in that area must be brought under control. The EC limit, I understand, should not be exceeded on more than seven days in one year and yet between November 1986 and February 1987 the levels in Ballyfermot exceeded that limit on a total of 30 days. That is very much outside what is acceptable and it further underlines the need for the introduction of legislation that will quickly control what is a serious problem.

When one thinks of control the big question that arises is that of cost. The high density urban areas of Dublin are where the less-well off members of our community live and those people, even with the best will in the world, are unable to spend money on alternative fuels. A change over from an open grate system to a smokeless fuel is expensive and I understand that smokeless fuels cost in the region of 50 per cent more than ordinary bituminous coal. The whole area of cost and funding is crucial to the success of the measures in the Bill. I understand that before a local authority designate an area as a special control area, they must satisfy the Minister. It is at that stage that local authorities can seek assistance from the Department by way of grants to help people convert from open fire grates and assist in the purchase of smokeless fuels. The Minister has discretion in this regard but I fear, given the economic circumstances of the country, the old excuse of money not being available will be trotted out and will result in long delays in bringing in effective controls on air pollution. My colleague, Deputy Gibbons, touched on that point in his contribution.

Will the Government make finance available to ensure that householders who cannot afford to comply with conditions in the Bill will be given assistance to purchase smokeless fuels? I have no doubt that a cost-benefit analysis would confirm that huge savings in public expenditure could be achieved if people got assistance to convert to smokeless fuels. Huge sums of money are spent on health care and a lot of that could be saved if we lived in a pollution-free environment. I suggest to the Minister that he should sanction such an analysis for an area like Ballyfermot.

The Bill is another reminder of the necessity for a comprehensive energy policy. One of our greatest natural resources is Kinsale gas, an ideal fuel for areas of high density housing in that it does not cause pollution. The Government should consider distributing natural gas more widely on the domestic market. The inter-relationship between the price of the various energy sources must be examined. If we could have cheaper electricity by charging the ESB less for the natural gas they consume and if we could have cheaper natural gas by an adjustment in the Government's pricing policy, it could lead to greater use of pollution-free fuels with a consequent major decrease in the unacceptable levels of air pollution, particularly in Dublin city.

There is considerable agreement in regard to the provisions of the Bill which was originally introduced in the Seanad by the former Minister of State. Overall I believe that most people agree with the general tenor and direction of the Bill. It deals with a considerable problem which arises from the use in some areas of very dense housing of a type of fuel, particularly coal which especially in heavy, damp weather has a serious effect in the locality on the level of air pollution. This can be very serious and cause considerable health hazards for many people. I imagine that the use of coal is increasing rather than decreasing in this country. As a nation we should endeavour to exploit and utilise our natural resources such as turf, timber, whatever natural gas there is and whatever electricity we have. Nevertheless, in a great many of our domestic fires coal is the main fuel. The problem continues and very little can be done in that respect except to try to assist in any way we can to minimise it.

Previous Ministers for the Environment and Ministers for Energy were concerned as I am sure the present Minister is concerned about the problem of air pollution arising from the burning of coal by the ESB at Moneypoint. A number of local authorities, including that of which I am a member, Offaly County Council, have made an effort to assess the level of air pollution caused by emissions from Moneypoint. There is an obligation under the provisions of the Bill to try to prevent air pollution. Some years ago the Canadian Government had an all-party committee of their House of Commons investigate the level of air pollution caused by the burning of coal in their generating stations. I hope this House will take cognisance of the level of air pollution from Moneypoint because we must ensure that it is kept at a very reasonable, low level. I understand that for this purpose a type of scrubber should be installed on the stacks at the generating station but the cost of installing these instruments is excessive. I have heard various estimates from £80 million to £450 million of the cost of providing them for the purpose of curtailing and minimising the level of air pollution. Those are vast sums of money and one can well understand the apprehension felt by any semi-State body faced with a cost of that magnitude. Perhaps the ESB have been somewhat slow in providing the necessary safeguards in an effort to curtail and diminish the level of pollution from their generating stations.

This is the first occasion I have had of speaking to the Minister since he was appointed to his Ministry. I wish him every success in that and I extend that wish to his colleague sitting beside him who is from my constituency. The Minister of State was present at meetings of Offaly County Council on a number of occasions when this matter was discussed. In Canada and throughout western Europe serious problems have arisen for forests, wildlife and vegetation and the ordinary amenities of life have been seriously affected. The environment there has been damaged and if the necessary safeguards are not provided at Moneypoint then some of the problems Canada and western Europe faced could arise here. This is European Year of the Environment. I appeal to the Minister to have discussions with his colleague in the Department of Energy to see what efforts can be made to remedy this very serious problem which instead of diminishing may increase when further generating stations come on-stream.

The ESB have two such stations working at the moment and they intend to bring further stations into operation. This will exacerbate the problem. In Canada a special commission investigated the problem of air pollution. Western Europe failed to take action on it in time. A genuine effort must be made to minimise the level of air pollution coming from the ESB station at Moneypoint. On a number of occasions I took this matter up with the ESB. Right across the midlands there is apprehension about the level of pollution from Moneypoint. There has been a huge investment by successive Governments to develop forestry in the midlands and it is our duty to protect our forests from pollution. One cannot but be worried when one looks at pictures of and reads about the damage done to forestry by smaller generating stations. We must take action in time. As yet only minimal damage has been done but we must build in the necessary safeguards to control or avoid pollution. To date as far as I can see the ESB have not provided the safeguards. If we do not remedy the situation the people coming after us will be highly critical of this generation.

We have radar stations to monitor the weather, the rainfall and so on. Now we should have stations to monitor air pollution. When concluding I would be glad if the Minister would let us know what amount of control he has over methods of assessing air pollution. Have we sufficient personnel and monitoring stations to monitor air pollution in different areas? I know efforts are being made to monitor air pollution in Dublin but what efforts are being made to monitor air pollution in small areas, such as pollution from factories that burn products which give off very heavy stenches? Many people live in the vicinity of such factories and they ought to be protected from high levels of pollution. I know we are anxious to attract industry and to create employment but I am anxious that we should be able to monitor pollution levels arising from some factories. The Minister could allay the fears of many people by giving details of the resources available to him in the control of air pollution.

I am glad to note that if people do not comply with certain requests there is in this Bill a power to have recourse to the courts to make people obey orders made under this Bill. I welcome this Bill and I am sure most people in the House also welcome it.

Tá mé buíoch de Theachtaí as ucht réimse na dtuairmí a nochtaigh siad sa díospóireacht seo. Tá mé buíoch freisin as ucht na tacaíochta a gheall Teachtaí ó gach taobh don Bhille agus do na polasaithe go gcaithfimid cur i bhfeidhm faoin mBille.

I would like to thank Deputies for their many valuable contributions to this debate. Preserving and improving our air quality is an important issue for all of us. In this European Year of the Environment it is important that we help spread the message that we are all, through our actions and inaction, responsible for the quality of the environment around us.

There has been a wide consensus in this debate in support of this Bill. I thank Deputies for the support which they have promised for action to implement the Bill which is more important still. In the course of his contribution the Minister of State has already replied to some points raised by Deputies in this debate. I will recap briefly on some of these but concentrate principally on the remaining points which have been made.

Most Deputies referred to the Dublin smoke problem. Deputy Brady spoke about detailed arrangements for controlling smoke pollution in Dublin. He suggested first an early declaration of intent to have a special control area order in Dublin; this would allow the necessary transitional period for adapting to the order. Deputy Brady suggested, secondly, a system of smog alerts which would be aligned with the weather forecasting system.

Declaring a special control area order will be something which, in the first instance, the Dublin local authorities will have to consider. The Minister for the Environment will have a reserve power to direct an order to be made. The procedure laid down by Part IV of the Bill requires first a decision by the elected members of a local authority; then, if there are objections, an oral hearing; then confirmation by the Minister; and, finally, a transitional period of at least six months to allow adaptations to be carried out. The transitional period emphasised by Deputy Brady is fully catered for in the Bill. We may assume that for practical reasons special control area orders would be introduced on a gradual basis, starting with those areas most affected and then based on that experience extending to other areas as necessary.

As regards Deputy Brady's proposal for a system of smog alerts, I accept that, with appropriate investment in new technical equipment, this might be possible. However, I am not clear that this system would be particularly useful or cost effective in Irish circumstances. As operated in certain continental countries, smog alerts generally relate to pollution from sulphur dioxide rather than smoke. Broadly speaking our problem is with smoke and not with sulphur dioxide. In addition, smog alerts in continental Europe are nearly always directed to major individual sources of sulphur emissions. Closing these large emitters down for a few days, or requiring them to use lower sulphur fuels, can alleviate sulphur levels fairly quickly.

Smoke problems in Dublin arise from the hundreds of thousands of houses using open burning fires in an area. Smog alert system cannot be effective in relation to such dispersed sources. It makes more sense to direct resources to adapting houses in problem areas so that they emit little or no smoke in the first place. Deputy Mac Giolla referred to the lack of air pollution monitoring in parts of the north side of Dublin city such as Finglas, Kilbarrack and Coolock. In the absence of such monitoring he wondered if we can ascertain whether the levels of pollution in these areas are severe.

Smoke and sulphur dioxide have been measured on a regular basis in Dublin since 1962. Dublin Corporation decided in 1983 to establish a more systematic monitoring network which would sample industrial, commercial and domestic emissions, or a mixture of these, in different representative areas of the city. Dublin Corporation commissioned Warren Spring Laboratory from the United Kingdom, an internationally recognised authority in this field, to carry out an assessment of the Dublin monitoring network and to make recommendations for its improvement. The method used by Warren Spring Laboratory was to single out the areas most at risk from air pollution in Dublin in terms of the likelihood of their approaching or exceeding EC limit values. These then were the areas designated for monitoring stations. In other words, the system has been designed to exclude the possibility that areas outside of those monitored might be experiencing worse air pollution than their monitored counterparts. The present network is in line with the Warren Spring Laboratory recommendations. There is not a need for a proliferation of monitoring stations throughout the city. The representative quality of the information gathered, rather than its quantity, is what is important.

Deputies Mac Giolla and Brady also referred to the well known article in the Irish Medical Journal in October 1984 which analysed a possible correlation between the mortality rate in St. James's Hospital and high pollution levels in Dublin in January 1982. The connection between serious air pollution and excess mortality rates was well established following the extreme London smog of December 1952 when it was found that approximately 4,000 excess deaths had occurred, Air pollution in Dublin has not remotely reached the London levels of that time. But health studies of the kind mentioned by Deputies clearly are very relevant. It is fair to say that this subject has not been as widely researched in Ireland as in some other countries. Until more broadly researched conclusions are available, we cannot quantify definitely the contribution of air pollution to morbidity or excess mortality in this country.

In regard to special control areas a number of Deputies referred to the provision of grants towards the cost of adaptations necessary to meet the requirements involved. Some Deputies mentioned the use of pricing policy in regard to clearner fuels. Deputy Gibbons in particular asked if grants would be paid under section 45 and whether such grants could be justified on a cost-benefit ground.

I should like first to address the question of cost-benefit of smoke controls in Dublin. The fact is that, in certain areas of Dublin, the EC standards for smoke are being exceeded. These standards are distilled from research carried out by the World Health Organisation on the effects of levels of pollution on human health. We have not the resources, and there is not the need, to duplicate such well accepted conclusions. In addition to being legally required under EC law to comply with these standards I believe there will be considerable benefit to public health.

The question of grants being paid is, of course, a budgetary matter. In the severe financial constraints facing us I cannot pre-empt such budgetary consideration, particularly as expenditure of this kind will not arise this year. However, it is clear that smokeless zoning in a number of other countries has been accommodated by financial incentives of various kinds. This Bill provides for a similar possibility.

A number of Deputies, including Deputies Barnes and Kitt said that, as a country with a relatively clean environment, we should be to the forefront in implementing EC environment legislation to the benefit of our tourism and agricultural industries. It is absolutely vital to our future well-being that we maintain our clear and unpolluted image. At the same time, EC standards should be appropriate and cost-effective for our circumstances. The environmental provisions of the Single European Act will be helpful in this regard. They provide that in future Community environment policy must have regard to economic circumstances in member states, to different environmental conditions in these States and to the balanced development of the regions. These are appropriate safeguards for the Irish position.

Deputies Quinn and de Valera, in particular, argued that in so far as the Community wishes to impose costly standards of pollution control, it should be prepared to provide financial assistance to countries for whom this might represent an unfair burden. There has always been some acceptance of this principle. The European Investment Bank already finances major pollution control projects and, under the draft fourth environmental action programme to be adopted this year, the Regional Fund is also to make funds available to this kind of undertaking.

Deputy de Valera referred to the research and development programmes which have grant-aided demonstration projects in the air pollution area. The NBST, who represent Irish interests on the management committee for these programmes, have been active in ensuring that as many Irish projects as possible receive EC aid. Maximising EC entitlements and improving the flow of grants is a priority of the Government. We shall be ascertaining whether even more can be done about this in the environment area.

In connection with Moneypoint many Deputies criticised what they saw as the derogation which the ESB were seeking from the draft EC directive on large combustion plant. The Minister of State has already made some comments on the position of Moneypoint but I think I should now offer some further clarification of this aspect. First, the draft directive proposes clean technology or scrubbers for new plant authorised after 1987. Moneypoint would not be a new plant for the purpose of the draft directive and there would be no direct obligation on the ESB to fit scrubbers to that plant.

The second part of the EC proposal would require total power plant emissions from member states to be kept within various limits which would be different for each member state. One possible way — and I stress the word "possible"— for Ireland to keep within its national limit would be to fit scrubbers at Moneypoint. But it might also be possible to observe the limit by other methods such as the use of low sulphur fuels which would be much less costly and much more cost-effective. In any event, the draft directive is still being negotiated so that no definite statement can be made yet about its effects on the ESB.

Taking into account what I have been saying and the earlier remarks of the Minister of State some response has now been made to most points made by Deputies. I should like to thank Deputies again for their very thoughtful contributions to this debate. We shall consider all of the proposals on committee Stage, when amendments will be dealt with carefully. I look forward to that debate.

I take it the Minister is saying there is no direct obligation on the ESB to add these scrubbers to the Moneypoint plant?

Not at this time.

While there might be no legislative obligation on the ESB to apply these safeguards would the Minister not feel that such safeguards should be applied under direct order by him in the environmental interests of the country?

Yes, I do. It is the one plant which emits pollution, even though not on a very large scale which would cause concern. It will have to be monitored very closely in that area. That is why the data base and the base line studies have been undertaken. The monitoring stations are located in the surrounding areas so that on an on-going basis we will be able to establish precisely the emissions taking place. We can then apply whatever remedy is needed, if necessary.

Will the Minister be prepared to give such a direction if, following his monitoring of the position, he deems it necessary?

In the overall context of this Bill that can be catered for.

It depends on who wins the battle, the Minister for the Environment or the Minister for Energy.

It is a very important battle. It is in the interests of the midlands and of the country that this be done.

The Deputy has got a handsome tilly.

Question put and agreed to.

When will Committee Stage be taken?

It is to be agreed with the Whips.

Strictly speaking, it is desirable to indicate a date, perhaps in a week or a fortnight.

Tuesday, 12 May, subject to agreement by the Whips.

Committee Stage ordered for Tuesday, 12 May, 1987.