Northern Ireland Environment Minister Edwin Poots has announced changes to his department’s High Air Pollution Alert Protocol to improve public awareness of periods of high air pollution in Northern Ireland.

The updated system has been a joint effort between the Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs (DAERA) and the Department of Health (DoH).

Changes include the use social media to disseminate information about high levels of air pollution to the public, health professionals and those in high-risk groups.

It comes in addition to DAERA’s existing SMS alert service, Air Quality Northern Ireland website and Mobile App.

Welcoming the improvements to the alert protocol, Minister Poots said: “With the Covid-19 pandemic still affecting our daily lives, it is more important than ever to ensure that the public is alerted as soon as possible to forecast or actual High Air Pollution events.

“The revised protocol utilises social media to get this information out to the public at a greater pace and inform a larger proportion of the population.

“Interest in the quality of the air we breathe has grown massively over recent years, and the improvement of this alert system allows people with underlying health issues, such as heart and lung conditions or asthma, to get more localised information when they need it.”

Health Minister Robin Swann encouraged the public to sign up to receive the alerts by downloading the Northern Ireland Air app.

Minister Swann said: “If you suffer from, or care for anyone with health conditions that may be exacerbated by high air pollution events I would urge you download the ‘Northern Ireland Air’ Mobile App, which offers a service that sends a notification to the user’s mobile phone when levels of elevated pollutants are detected or the air quality forecast has identified elevated levels of pollutants.”

‘Seasonal fluctuations in air quality’

Currently, the app shows good air quality across Northern Ireland, with every recording station reporting the lowest two pollution levels.

However, Minister Poots explained that this can change seasonally.

“Northern Ireland tends to experience seasonal fluctuations in certain types of air pollutants due to behavioural changes as a result of colder weather,” he said.

“Therefore, as we approach autumn and winter, I would ask everyone to consider their actions when it comes to heating their homes using the most efficient methods available.

“I would encourage everyone to visit the Northern Ireland Air website for more information on what we can all do to reduce air pollution.”

The Northern Ireland Air App can be downloaded from both the android and iPhone App stores by searching ‘Northern Ireland Air’.