The potential sources of indoor air pollution are wide ranging and diverse and addressing these fall across a number of Department’s and Agency’s functional areas. These sources include:
Local ambient air quality
Building technology (heating systems, ventilation systems, etc.)
Building fabric (construction materials, insulation materials, etc.)
Occupant activity (cooking, smoking, solid fuel usage, chemicals, etc)
My Department has responsibility for national policy relating to outdoor air quality and certain emissions, and has been taking a number of actions to improve this, some of which will also impact positively on indoor air quality. For example, the Climate Action Plan includes actions such as upgrading a third of all homes to at least a B2 energy standard and installing approximately 600,000 heat pumps by 2030 (400,000 of these into existing homes and 200,000 into new homes to be built).
Ireland also faces challenges in relation to concentrations of particulate matter (PM) in smaller towns, which is predominately related to domestic solid fuel burning. The extension of the current smoky coal ban to 13 new towns from September of this year will contribute to addressing concentrations of PM and related air quality concerns for residents in the towns concerned.
Legislation is also in place which limits the emissions of Volatile Organic Compounds from paints and varnishes in order to reduce the levels indoor air pollution within buildings. Further information is available from the EPA at the following link:
Another of my Department’s overarching areas of responsibility as regards indoor air quality relates to environmental radiation.
Radon is a naturally occurring, colourless, odourless and tasteless radioactive gas formed in the ground by the radioactive decay of uranium which is present in all rocks and soils, and the gas can accumulate in homes and workplaces. It is the greatest source of exposure to ionising radiation for the general public in Ireland and the leading cause of lung cancer after smoking. It is estimated that exposure to radon accounts for approximately 300 lung cancer cases each year.
Certain areas of the country are more likely to have a high number of homes with excessive levels of radon and these areas are known as High Radon Areas. Comprehensive information on radon, including a radon map of Ireland and remediation options, is available on the EPA’s website https://www.epa.ie/radiation/meas/radon/
Recognising the scale of the radon problem in Ireland, the Government tasked an inter-agency group to develop a National Radon Control Strategy (NRCS), which would comprehensively address the radon problem in Ireland.
Progress under the Strategy to date includes:
The establishment and launch of a dedicated website www.radon.ie which provides customised information for different groups (such as homeowners, medical professionals and local authorities);
The development and rollout of a short targeted course for construction site staff on radon prevention. This course is now run by the Construction Industry Federation;
The development and rollout of a targeted training course for local authorities, public bodies and radon contractors on radon remediation; and,
The development of a registration scheme for radon measurement services in 2017. The resulting list of registered services is available to the public on www.radon.ie.
Phase 2 of the NRCS includes further measures to raise awareness of the dangers of radon and encourage testing and remediation measures. These measures will complement the ongoing work of my Department in developing a National Clean Air Strategy, which will set out and give effect to clean air policies in order to meet national, EU and international policy considerations and priorities.
As stated above, other key control measures to reduce indoor air pollution fall outside my own remit. For example, the Department of Housing, Planning and Local Government is responsible for policy and legislation in relation to building standards and ventilation for both residential and commercial dwellings, and sets appropriate standards regarding ventilation, heating appliances and materials used.
Another factor that influences indoor air quality, particularly in homes, is of course, smoking. The responsibility for the development of policies to tackle this important public health issue falls within the remit of the Department of Health