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Ireland should ‘aspire’ to meet WHO air quality standards

By David Lynch - 25th May 2023

Ireland should aim to meet the World Health Organisation’s (WHO) air quality guidelines, the recent Environment, Health and Wellbeing conference in Dublin heard.

Ms Laura Burke, Director General of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), told the conference, which was held on Wednesday 17 May, that we “should recognise in Ireland that air quality is generally good”.

She noted that Ireland is “compliant with EU standards” in regards to air quality. However, Ms Burke added that Ireland and Europe should move towards meeting the “more stringent” health-based WHO air quality guidelines.

“This is where the aspiration should be,” she said.

“This is what the EPA has been calling for, for a number of years. It is not ok  just to meet the minimum bar.”

The conference was jointly organised by the HSE, EPA and the Economic and Social Research Institute and was held in the Royal College of Physicians of Ireland.

Separately, a HSE spokesperson told the Medical Independent that the Executive’s Climate Action Strategy 2022-2050 is due to be published “shortly”.

“Additionally, in October 2022, the HSE published its Infrastructure Decarbonisation Roadmap. This roadmap outlines our approach to achieving the targets set out in the Government’s Climate Action Plan,” said the spokesperson.

Last month, the College of Anaesthesiologists of Ireland (CAI) published “a strong advisory” to its members that continued administration of an anaesthetic gas called desflurane “is no longer justifiable due to its super-potent greenhouse gas effects”.

In a statement, the CAI said that while “almost all commonly used anaesthetic gases are potent greenhouse gases”, desflurane “is of particular concern”. According to the CAI, one kilogramme of desflurane contributes to global warming the same amount as two-and-a-half tonnes of carbon dioxide.

In 2020, the CAI became the first of the medical specialty colleges in Ireland to set up an environmental sustainability committee.

Dr Dónall Ó Cróinín of the CAI said: “We hope that our action will help inspire the HSE and other stakeholders to begin to green our heavily polluting industry.”

“We believe that people working in all areas of healthcare have a huge desire to make what they do more environmentally sustainable, they just need the appropriate tools to make it happen.”

See the new issue of the Medical Independent, out on 30 May, for the full conference report.

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