As the cold weather approaches and the lure of open fires and cosy stoves becomes ever more appealing, Cork consumers and businesses are encouraged to rethink their fuel choices over the winter months. Protecting and improving our air quality has been a key priority for Cork County Council’s Environment Directorate, coming into sharper focus in the year ahead as Ireland is set to be the first country in Europe to introduce a nationwide ban on the marketing, sale, distribution and burning of bituminous or ‘smoky’ coal.
According to a 2016 report by the OECD, “Unless we clean up the air, by the middle of the century one person will die prematurely every 5 seconds from outdoor air pollution.” The World Health Organisation is also clear that particle pollution from solid fuel burning has detrimental health impacts even at very low concentrations in that no threshold has been identified below which there is no damage to health. In Ireland, The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) estimates that each year there are 1,500 early deaths due to air pollution. The burning of bituminous coal and other smoky solid fuels is acknowledged to be the biggest threat to good air quality, both indoor and out, while the burning of low smoke alternatives has been found to significantly reduce public health risks.
Mayor of the County of Cork, Cllr. Patrick Gerard Murphy acknowledges the reality that many Cork households are reliant on solid fuel as a main heat source, “We are simply asking people to take simple steps to protect air quality both in their homes and beyond. There is now a range of innovative low smoke solid fuel products, including low smoke coal products, available on the market.”
Cork County Council Chief Executive, Tim Lucey reminds householders that “Low smoke solid fuel is cleaner and more energy-efficient, while delivering improved air quality and human health benefits. We also encourage households to only use dry timber and peat products and to never ever burn household waste in their fires or stoves. “
Currently the ban on the burning, marketing, sale and distribution of smoky solid fuels applies in designated Low Smoke Zones in the main cities and larger towns. The upcoming extension of the ban nationwide will have the effect of designating the entire State as a Low Smoke Zone, planned for implementation from Winter 2019. As part of their responsibility to enforce these regulations, Cork County Council will be continuing its rigorous awareness, monitoring and enforcement programme for the 2018/2019 heating season. Inspections are carried out on retailers, coal merchants and coal delivery trucks. Maximum fines for marketing and sale of smoky coal have been increased to €5,000 on summary conviction, with on-the-spot fines of up to €1,000. Council staff will also call to private houses where it appears that bituminous coal is being burned within the current “smokeless zone”. While inspections in previous years have indicated a high degree of compliance and co-operation, Cork County Council will continue to support compliant retailers, by ensuring all operators in the market are similarly compliant.
Cork County Council’s 2019 awareness campaign will strive to drive realisation on the vital need to safeguard our air quality, urging consumers to opt for low smoke fuel alternatives now, ensuring Cork is at forefront of the move to cleaner and more efficient fuels ahead of the nationwide ban.
For further information on Cork County Council Low Smoke Zone, see www.corkcoco.ie/environment