I propose to take Questions Nos. 171 and 172 together.
In respect of monitoring of water quality, the EPA, local authorities, Inland Fisheries Ireland and the Marine Institute all monitor rivers, lakes, transitional and coastal waters, and groundwater quality under the Water Framework Directive on a three-year cycle. This extensive monitoring programme provides a good overview of current water quality and trends as they develop.
Water quality trends emerging in recent years include a notable decline in the incidence of serious pollution events from 39 sites in the 2004-2006 period, to 20 sites in the 2007-2009 period and currently down to 11 sites. There has also been a stabilisation in the length of river channel regarded as unpolluted, at approximately 71% of the length surveyed. However, the period has also been marked by a steady decline in the number of river sites at high ecological status.
The 2013 surveys are currently under way and a new national update for 2010-2012 will be available by early 2014. In the meantime, this year the EPA has published regional reports covering the south east, Louth/Monaghan and Galway/Mayo/Sligo, including information from 2012 monitoring. The EPA and local authorities respond to water quality incidents and complaints on an ongoing basis. Details of recent incidents are available on the EPA website and can be accessed at: http://www.epa.ie/news/incidents/recent. Additional information is available at: http://www.epa.ie/pubs/reports/indicators/00061_EPA_SoE_2012.pdf. Comprehensive reports on water quality are published every three years by the EPA and are available for download at http://www.epa.ie/pubs/reports/water/waterqua.
The ambient air quality monitoring programme in Ireland is carried out to meet the requirements of EU Directive 2008/50/EC on ambient air quality and cleaner air for Europe, also known as the CAFÉ Directive. The Directive requires that certain minimum levels of monitoring are conducted for the purpose of assessment and management of air quality. The EPA has responsibility for the monitoring of air quality in Ireland, and monitors a range of atmospheric pollutants based on data obtained from the 29 monitoring stations that form the national ambient air quality network.
The EPA also publishes an annual report on air quality, based primarily on the monitoring requirements of the CAFÉ Directive. The most recent report, Air Quality in Ireland 2012 – Key Indicators of Ambient Air Quality, was published in September 2013 and provides an assessment of air quality in Ireland for 2012, compared to the CAFÉ Directive standards as well as, for the first time, assessments in relation to more stringent World Health Organisation (WHO) air quality guidelines for the protection of human health.
Downward trends have been identified for many pollutants and Ireland currently meets all EU standards for air quality but exceeds WHO air quality guidelines for particulate matter. Particulate matter levels in Ireland are of concern, particularly during the winter heating season, when people's choice of fuel can impact directly on the air quality in their locality and can thus impact on health. To maintain our good standard of air quality and ensure that in the future our air will be healthy and clean, Ireland must continue to implement and enforce the ban on bituminous coal. Households and businesses should use more efficient methods to burn fuel and shift from solid fuel to cleaner alternatives, while also striving to reduce the demand for energy consumption.
Levels of nitrogen oxides (NOX) at traffic-impacted city centre areas may also be a challenge in the future. Ireland must reduce traffic emissions through implementing policies to reduce travel demand, increase the use of alternatives to the private car such as cycling, walking, and public transport and improve the efficiencies of motorised transport.