Despite decreasing in 2019, Irish ammonia emissions are still non-compliant with the EU ceiling, according to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). However, there are some “encouraging signs” of abatement measures being adopted at farm level to tackle this, the agency notes.

The EPA today (Thursday, June 3) published a compliance assessment for emissions of five key air pollutants which impact air quality, health and the environment, including: ammonia; non-methane volatile organic compounds; sulphur dioxide; nitrogen oxides; and fine particulate matter (PM2.5).

This latest report shows that, despite decreasing in 2019, ammonia emissions are still non-compliant with the EU ceiling and have now been non-compliant for seven out of the last nine years, the EPA says.

Agriculture dominates emissions of ammonia 99% which arise from animal manures and nitrogen fertiliser, the agency noted, adding:

“However, there are some encouraging signs of abatement measures being adopted at farm level, with approximately 16% of cattle slurries applied using low emission spreading techniques [low emission slurry spreading – LESS], avoiding over 3,000t of ammonia emissions.

“There was also a four-fold increase, albeit from a low base, in the use of inhibited urea fertiliser products in 2019,” the report added.

Emissions of nitrogen oxides – primarily from transport and diesel fuelled vehicles in particular – decreased by 9.2% in 2019 as vehicle NOx abatement technologies continue to improve, the agency said.

Emissions of non-methane volatile organic compounds also decreased by 1.1% in 2019. These mostly arise from spirit production in the food and beverage industry, animal manures and fertilisers, it was noted.

There was a 13.1% decrease in emissions of fine particulate matter due to lower heating requirements in 2019, while emissions of sulphur dioxide continued on a downward trend.

Commenting, Sharon Finegan, director of the EPA’s Office of Environmental Sustainability, said:

“Emissions of all air pollutants need to reduce further to protect air quality and health and achieve compliance with EU emissions limits. The National Clean Air Strategy, which is currently being finalised, needs to set out the proposed measures to reduce emissions.

“It is encouraging to see ammonia emissions beginning to be addressed at farm level. The assessment shows that Ireland can comply with the 2030 ammonia ceiling – but this requires full implementation of measures in the Department of Agriculture’s AgClimatise strategy, and the National Air Pollution Control Programme ”

Emissions of Sulphur dioxide, particulate matter, ammonia and nitrogen oxides are projected to be compliant with more challenging EU emission ceilings that will apply for 2030, provided planned measures are fully implemented.

Stephen Treacy, EPA senior manager, also commented, stating:

“Ireland has seen big reductions in the emissions of many air pollutants over the last thirty years, including a 94% fall in sulphur dioxide emissions and an over 60% drop in fine particulate matter emissions. Further emissions reductions are possible with the right measures in place.

“These measures are far reaching and require big changes in the agriculture, transport and energy sectors including switching to cleaner fuels, technology improvements in slurry application and a significant uptake of electric vehicles.

“Further measures are required to reduce Non- Methane Volatile Organic Compounds emissions to meet the 2030 ceiling for this pollutant,” Treacy concluded.