What Can We Do
What Can We Do About Air Pollution?
This page provides some advice on the following:
- How we can reduce our contribution to air pollution
- How we can avoid exposure to air pollution – outdoors and indoors
- What can we do about climate change? (Climate change and air quality are two separate issues – but many of the things we can do to help tackle climate change will also benefit air quality).
How Can We Reduce Our Contribution to Air Pollution?
In Northern Ireland, the three most important sources of air pollution are:
- Road traffic, especially diesel vehicles. These are a source of nitrogen oxides and particulate matter.
- Domestic use of solid fuels – especially coal – for heating. This produces particulate matter (PM10 and PM2.5), oxides of nitrogen and (depending on the fuel) sulphur dioxide.
- Farming activities such as animal manure storage, handling and spreading. This releases ammonia into the air: ammonia reacts with other pollutants to form particulate sulphate and nitrate which contribute to PM10 and PM2.5.
Here are some ways we may be able to do our bit to reduce Northern Ireland’s air pollution, with links to other websites where you can find out more:
- Try to drive less, if you can: it may be possible to walk, cycle or use public transport, especially for short journeys. NIDirect’s web page on Active Travel and Sustainable Transport (https://www.nidirect.gov.uk/information-and-services/travel-transport-and-roads/active-travel-and-sustainable-transport) provides advice on how to do this conveniently and safely.
- Next time you are visiting Belfast, why not use the Park and Ride service https://www.translink.co.uk/parkandride?
- Or try the Glider (Belfast Rapid Transit service), which connects the east and west of the city and the Titanic Quarter, or the Goldline express coach service, which connects Northern Ireland’s main cities?
- Could an electric bike be for you? See NIDirect’s advice on https://www.nidirect.gov.uk/articles/electric-bikes-electrically-assisted-pedal-cycles
- Car sharing: perhaps you could travel to work with some of your colleagues?
- Many people still need to drive – especially if they are less mobile or live in a rural area; check out NIDirect’s tips on Greener Driving, at https://www.nidirect.gov.uk/information-and-services/active-travel-and-sustainable-transport/greener-driving. These include:
- Driving smoothly.
- Shifting to a higher gear at the right time.
- Switch your engine off if you know you won't be moving for a minute or so.
- Check your tyres regularly and keep them at the correct pressures – under-inflated tyres can increase your fuel use.
- Stick to the speed limits – at 70mph you could be using up to 30% more fuel than at 50mph.
- Remove roof boxes when they aren’t needed – they increase the weight and air resistance, so your car uses more fuel. And remove unnecessary items from the boot – these add to the weight and reduce fuel efficiency.
- Air conditioning and other on-board electrical devices (like mobile phone chargers) increase fuel use, so only use them when necessary.
- If you use solid fuels for heating, check before buying that the fuel is of an approved type for your area. If your house has an oil-fuelled boiler, get it serviced regularly, so that it operates efficiently and uses no more fuel than necessary.
- Keep warm at home, but don’t waste fuel: 21°C is comfortable for most people.
- If you have a wood burning stove or open fire:
- Only use your stove when you need to, especially if is not your only form of heating.
- Avoid burning when air quality is likely to be poor, such as in still weather.
- When choosing wood to burn, look for the Woodsure ‘Ready to Burn’ label. This guarantees that the wood is of suitable quality and is dry enough to burn without making a lot of smoke.
- If you buy unseasoned wood, or chop your own, leave it to ‘season’ (dry out) for two years before burning.
- Don’t burn treated wood, old furniture or household rubbish on your open fire or your stove – these can release toxic pollutants into your home!
- Keep your stove well maintained and serviced regularly.
- Get your chimney swept regularly by a qualified chimney sweep (up to twice a year if needed).
- Advice on open fires and wood-burning stoves can be found here: https://consult.defra.gov.uk/airquality/domestic-burning-of-wood-and-coal/supporting_documents/open%20fires%20wood%20burning%20stoves%20%20guideA4update12Oct.pdf
- Avoid lighting barbecues in very hot, still summer weather, or bonfires in cold, still winter weather. Rather than burn garden waste, you may be able to compost it, or use your Council garden waste collection service. NIdirect’s advice on bonfire safety can be found at: https://www.nidirect.gov.uk/articles/bonfire-safety.
Helping Our Farmers Protect the Environment
Most of the ammonia released into Northern Ireland’s air comes from farming activities. Farming is an important livelihood for many people in Northern Ireland; farmland is also an important habitat for many species of plants and animals, and part of the unique landscape of Northern Ireland.
Our farmers work hard to produce our food, and they understand the importance of protecting our countryside. It’s therefore important that we continue to support them. Some ways we can do this are:
- To buy locally-farmed produce when we can. (This also helps cut down on pollution caused by transporting food long distances).
- Look for labels that show the food has been produced with respect for the environment.
- Try to use all the food you buy, and minimise waste. The ‘Love Food Hate Waste’ website (https://lovefoodhatewaste.com/) has plenty of advice on how to do this safely.
Reducing Our Exposure to Air Pollution
Outdoor Air Pollution
- To check the air quality forecast for your area, go to the home page of this website.
- See the ‘Health Effects of Air Pollution’ page on this website for advice on which groups of people are most likely to be sensitive to the effects of air pollution. This gives advice on what action can be taken.
- Specific advice for people with health conditions is available at https://www.nidirect.gov.uk/articles/air-pollution-and-health#toc-1 .
- If you, or someone in your family, has a health condition which may be affected by air pollution (such as asthma or heart disease) you/they can use Air Aware to get SMS (text) air pollution alerts for Northern Ireland.
Indoor Air Pollution
Until recently, most of the focus has been on outdoor air quality – but indoor air quality is important too. (This makes sense when you think about the proportion of time many of us spend indoors.)
The most important indoor air pollutant to be aware of is carbon monoxide. If you have any kind of combustion appliance, be aware of the risks: carbon monoxide poisoning can kill! [http://www.hse.gov.uk/gas/domestic/co.htm ]. Ensure the appliance is serviced regularly, appropriately ventilated, and get a carbon monoxide detector.
Also, many products contain, or give off, non-methane volatile organic compounds (NMVOCs). These products include paints, household cleaning products, solvents, air fresheners and personal care products. Carpets and furniture can also give off NMVOCs when new. Although not harmful themselves, once released into the air these NMVOCs can undergo reactions to form new chemical compounds which can affect the air quality in your home.
Particulate matter can be given off by some methods of cooking; also from open fires and solid-fuel burning stoves.
The following advice is based on information in the Defra Clean Air Strategy 2019.
- Ensure your home is adequately ventilated.
- If a product has a strong smell, there is a good chance it contains NMVOCs.
- The same applies to new carpets, furniture, upholstery or other household items – if they have a strong smell, they are possibly releasing NMVOCs and it’s important to ventilate your home well.
What Can We Do About Climate Change?
Air quality and climate change are two different environmental issues. However, it takes energy to produce food, treat our drinking water, manufacture the things we use, heat our homes and workplaces, and transport us to the places we need to go. Much of this energy still comes from the burning of fuels; this produces carbon dioxide – CO2
Therefore, the choices we make about how we travel, how we heat our homes, and the things we buy and use can help to make a difference to both climate change and air quality. If we can use less energy, and avoid wasting it, this will reduce the amount of CO2 and air pollutants into our atmosphere. It will also save us money! Here are some ideas for things we can do:
- Aim to drive less, if and when you can.
- If you fly, for work or for leisure, consider whether you could take fewer flights.
- Make sure your home is well insulated and the boiler well-maintained: 80% of energy used in homes is for heating and hot water[need new reference]. You may be eligible for financial support towards this, through the Northern Ireland Sustainable Energy Programme or the Affordable Warmth scheme – https://www.energysavingtrust.org.uk/home-energy-efficiency/financial-support .
- If you are a landlord, ensure that the homes you let are properly insulated, so that your tenants do not have to waste energy to keep warm.
- Stay warm but don’t overheat your home: 21° C is comfortable for most people.
- Turn off unnecessary lights, and switch off electrical equipment (such as televisions and computers) when you have finished using them.
- Boil only as much water as you need (but be sure the kettle’s heating element is submerged).
- Avoid wasting food – it takes energy to produce.
- Reduce the amount of animal products (especially red meat) in your diet. Livestock farming is a major source of greenhouse gas emissions, especially methane.
- When washing clothes, wait until you have enough washing for a full machine load.
- Wash clothes at a lower temperature such as 30° C, unless they are very dirty.
- Dry clothes outdoors if possible rather than using a tumble drier.
- When buying electrical items, choose energy-efficient models.
- Avoid buying items with excessive amounts of packaging.
- Shop wisely and think before you buy.
NIdirect’s Energy Wise web pages have lots more energy saving advice at https://www.nidirect.gov.uk/articles/energy-efficiency-tips .