The current national air quality standards for suspended particulates, measured as black smoke, are set out in the Air Pollution Act, 1987 (Air Quality Standards) Regulations, 1987 (S.I. No. 244 of 1987). As reported in the most recently available 1997 Environmental Protection Agency – EPA – annual air quality monitoring report, concentrations of smoke were very low during the 1997-98 annual period at all monitoring sites in the country, including six monitors in Cork city, and were very much in compliance with current standards.
I assume the Deputy is referring to recent monitoring undertaken by one of the EPA's mobile monitoring units, in the Blackpool area of Cork city. This monitoring is being conducted as part of the agency's statutory duty under the Environmental Protection Agency Act, 1992 (Ambient Air Quality Assessment And Management) Regulations, 1999 (S.I. No. 33 of 1999) to undertake a preliminary national assessment of the levels of certain pollutants, including suspended particulate matter, for example PM10. There are currently no mandatory national air quality standards for PM10 and EU Directive 1999/30/EC for the first time specifies limit values for this parameter, based on monitoring over the calendar year. The directive is to be transposed into Irish law by July 2001.
I understand the available monitoring data for Blackpool ran for less than two weeks as part of an ongoing longer sampling period. While PM10 levels on certain days exceeded the concentration level in the new EU standard for the protection of human health, the data so far are insufficient to determine whether the overall standard may be approached or breached, as it provides for up to 35 days in the year above the specified level.
It is recognised that the new EU limit values for PM10 will be challenging, particularly in heavily trafficked urban areas. A number of policies and measures which will facilitate meeting the new standards have already been implemented. These include the ban on the sale of bituminous coal in Cork city since 1995; more recently the introduction of new fuel standards from 1 January 2000 including cleaner diesel, a recognised source of PM10; improved standards for new vehicles; the introduction of the national car test; local traffic management strategies and significant investment in transport infrastructure such as the Jack Lynch tunnel, the Blackpool bypass and the southern ring road to ease traffic congestion and the build up of vehicle emissions in the city. I am committed to ensuring that, in addition to existing measures, any further measures that may be required will be put in place to comply with the new EU air quality standards. Such measures will be guided over time by the results of the preliminary national assessment being undertaken currently by the EPA.