A poll by the European Union’s Eurobarometer agency has found that 36% of Irish people believe that the country’s air quality has deteriorated in the past 10 years.

The findings of the survey released today (Monday, October 24) show that the number holding this view had increased by one percentage point compared with a similar poll in 2019.

Of the 1,011 respondents in Ireland who took part in the poll between March 21 and April 20, 23% said that air quality in the country had improved over the past decade, while 39% felt it had stayed the same.

72% of Irish people polled said that they had not heard of EU air quality standards.

Of the 28% who were aware of the standards, almost three quarters believe that the measures are not adequate and need to be strengthened.

60% of respondents felt that they were either not well informed or not informed at all about air quality problems in Ireland.

The number of people who said that they were not informed at all increased by seven percentage points compared to the 2019 study.

Air quality

49% saw asthma as a very serious problem as a consequence of air pollution, 47% selected respiratory illnesses and 43% said cardiovascular diseases.

A third of respondents selected acidification (known as acid rain which affects forests) and eutrophication (an increase of organic matter in an ecosystem) as a consequence of air pollution.

71% said that large industries were not doing enough to promote good air quality, 67% pointed to fossil fuel-based energy producers, 58% to public authorities, 40% selected farmers and 41% chose households.

The participants in the survey were also asked what personal measures they had undertaken in the past two years to reduce harmful emissions.

32% of respondents had used public transport, a bicycle or walked instead of travelling by car, while 28% had improved the insulation in their homes.

24% of those polled had replaced appliances such as ovens, hot water boilers and dishwashers with newer equipment with a better energy efficiency rating.

15% changed their home heating system to one with lower emissions, 10% bought an electric vehicle as their primary mode of transport and 16% used less fuel or a low-emission fuel in open fires or barbecues.

23% of survey participants said that they had done none of these things.

EU citizens

The total overall poll of 26,509 people across the EU revealed that citizens lack information about air quality problems in their country.

Just 27% of Europeans polled said that they have heard of the existing EU air quality standards.

65% think air pollution should be addressed at the international level, followed by the European and the national level (both 42%), and finally the regional or local level (32%).

A fifth of respondents also believe that actions should be carried out at all levels simultaneously.

Commenting on the findings, EU Commissioner for Environment, Oceans and Fisheries, Virginijus Sinkevicius said:

“People tell us that they want clean air to breathe. People living in cities, asthma sufferers and those living near industrial plants, they are all worried and they are asking us to act.

“The commission will lead the way with an ambitious proposal to strengthen EU air quality standards.”