Thursday, 26 February 2004

Questions (173, 174)

John Gormley

Question:

173 Mr. Gormley asked the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government his views on the major increase in ozone pollution levels recorded in 2003; the steps his Department is taking to ensure that the public is aware of health effects of ozone pollution; if he will ensure that levels of ozone which exceed EU standards will be notified to the public so that those suffering from health problems can take precautionary steps; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [6466/04]

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John Gormley

Question:

184 Mr. Gormley asked the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government his views on the major increase in ozone pollution levels recorded in 2003, which exceeded EU standards; the steps he intends to take to deal with this problem; if he intends to make it mandatory that such episodes are made public so that those suffering from health problems can take precautions; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [6465/04]

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Written answers (Question to Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government)

I propose to take Questions Nos. 173 and 184 together.

Monitoring and reporting of ozone levels have been the responsibility of the Environmental Protection Agency under the Environmental Protection Agency 1992 (Ozone) Regulations 1997. I made new regulations — Ozone in Ambient Air Regulations 2004 — on 11 February 2004, transposing Directive 2002/3/EC of 12 February 2002 relating to ozone in ambient air, which repealed the 1997 regulations. Under the 1997 regulations extant in 2003 the agency was required to measure concentrations of ozone in the air and to inform the public, with the assistance of Met Éireann, whenever ozone levels exceed either the population information threshold, 180 µg/m3, or the population warning threshold, 360 µg/m3, for the mean value over one hour. The 2004 regulations strengthen the public information requirements by requiring the agency to routinely inform the public on at least a daily basis and, wherever appropriate and practicable on an hourly basis, of the concentrations of ozone in ambient air. The agency is doing this,inter alia, through its new air quality website, which I launched last month.

Under the 2004 regulations the agency is required, where the information threshold — 180 µg/m3 — or the new, more stringent alert threshold — 240 µg/m3 — is or, where practicable, is predicted to be exceeded, to make certain information publicly available as soon as possible and by appropriate means. This information includes any such exceedance, its location, start time, duration, forecasted changes in concentrations, the type of population groups potentially at risk, possible health effects and recommended conduct, and preventive action to reduce pollution or exposure to it.

Due to Ireland's geographical location and meteorological circumstances, ozone pollution is not a problem here. No exceedances of the lower information threshold were reported by the EPA on behalf of Ireland during the last seven summer seasons — 1997-2003 — when hot weather conditions, and the presence of ozone precursors which chemically react in sunlight, caused ozone pollution episodes in many parts of mainland Europe.

I understand from the agency that in 2003 one relatively minor exceedance of the population information threshold was recorded at a concentration level of 181.2 µg/m3. This occurred on 18 April, Good Friday, between 4 p.m. and 5 p.m. and lasted for one hour. Due to a problem earlier in the day with the data transmission element of the agency's automatic monitoring system this specific concentration level was not notified to Met Éireann for public information broadcast though levels above 160 µg/m3 were so notified; as these notifications were below 180 µg/m3 they did not trigger a Met Éireann broadcast. When contacted the following day by Met Éireann about the anomalous repetition of the same notification, the agency discovered the transmission error and rectified the problem immediately. Given the relatively minor nature of the exceedance, its short duration, and the maintenance of subsequent readings below180 µg/m3, the agency did not ask Met Éireann to issue any public information alert as the exceedance had happened the previous day.