Warning about use of illegal ‘smoky’ coal in Limerick City

  • Limerick City and County Council

Limerick City and County Council and the Health Service Executive is concerned that bituminous (‘smoky’) coal continues to be sold to, and burnt by, a small minority of householders in Limerick City and its environs.

‘Smoky’ coal is completely unsuitable for use in urban environments as it generates significant levels of harmful smog, which can have serious consequences for the very young, the elderly and those with respiratory conditions. It can cause damage to flora and fauna as well as property.

The sale, marketing and distribution of such coal have been illegal in Limerick City and surrounding area (a designated ‘low-smoke zone’) for over 20 years and its burning was completely outlawed three years ago. Bans are in place in all urban areas with populations of over 15,000 and it is expected that a nationwide ban will be introduced later this year.

The medical and environmental justifications are compelling.

From a population health perspective, diseases of the respiratory system are one of the leading causes of death in the Mid-West (Limerick, Clare and North Tipperary), accounting for 1,894 deaths for the period 2013-2017.

There is clear evidence that the ‘smoky’ coal bans have improved air quality and consequently respiratory health. Irish studies (Dockery et al 2013) have shown that deaths due to respiratory disease decreased following the introductions of the bans.

Householders should note that there is absolutely no economic or thermal advantage to be gained from burning ‘smoky’ coal. Anyone who burns such coal is contributing to the creation of an environmental and health hazard for themselves and their neighbours.

Furthermore, some of the harmful emissions from an open ‘smoky’ coal fire remain within the dwelling where it is burnt and create a hazard for the occupants.

However, there are some suppliers who continue, knowingly, to deliver and sell ‘smoky’ coal, despite their knowledge of the law and despite being subject to repeated enforcement action.

Limerick City and County Council continues to enforce this ban by means of prosecutions and the issuing of “spot fines” of up to €1,000.

Those who profit from the sale of ‘smoky’ coal and those who burn it should consider the harm that they cause to the environment and the medical distress to others.

Air pollution is the single biggest environmental health risk in the European Union.

There are plentiful supplies of legal ‘low smoke’ (formerly known as ‘smokeless’) coal, as well as wood and turf products available and we note that the vast majority of retail outlets such as supermarkets and garage forecourts etc. sell solid fuel that is fully compliant with the law.

‘Low Smoke’ coal does not damage fire grates and it provides as much, and sometimes more, heat than a similar volume of ‘smoky’ coal. It does not cost more than ‘smoky’ coal.

It is a legal requirement for bags of ‘low smoke’ coal to be clearly identifiable by being marked as follows in letters at least 2 centimetres high and in a form, which is clearly legible:

  • The name and address of the person who packed the bag
  • 'APPROVED FUEL - Contents comply with the Air Pollution Act Regulations'

Any bag that is not so marked is illegal in a low smoke zone and coal from it may be considered to be ‘smoky’.

For further information, please search ‘Air Quality’ on Limerick.ie.

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