Air quality monitoring, policy and legislation

The following article provides information on how the Department monitors air quality and how the Department ensures that all citizens should have access to outdoor air without significant risk to their health, where this is economically and technically feasible.

Air quality monitoring in Northern Ireland

Air quality monitoring is carried out using automatic equipment, which monitors air continuously and can provide real-time data. Non-automatic equipment monitoring can provide representative data, for example, monthly average figures.

Monitoring is carried out by both the Department and by district councils. Most of the air quality monitoring sites in Northern Ireland measure one or two pollutants, but there are two multi-pollutant sites: one of these is in Belfast’s Lombard Street, while the other is in Derry/Londonderry’s Brooke Park.

Data from some of our monitoring sites is fed into the UK network, and provides for quality assurance and quality control of the data as well as analysis and comparison in a national context.

Air pollution monitoring stations

You can see the full network of air quality monitoring stations in Northern Ireland on our air quality website

Monitoring is carried out for a range of pollutants, such as:

  • particulate matter PM10 and PM2.5 – main sources are road transport, solid fuel burning
  • nitrogen oxides NO and NO2 – main source is road transport
  • sulphur dioxide – main source is solid fuel burning
  • polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) – main source is solid fuel burning
  • ozone – this is a secondary pollutant, formed from nitrogen oxides and other pollutants, particularly in the summer. It can also be transported here from other countries, depending on prevailing winds
  • black carbon – main source is solid fuel burning

You can read more on these pollutants on the air pollution section of the website.

You can see Northern Ireland’s air quality monitoring stations, as well as current and past levels of air pollutants, on the air quality website, though for some other pollutants (PAHs and black carbon), you will need to view DEFRA's web-page on Air quality monitoring networks.

Annual report on air pollution in Northern Ireland

Each year, the Department publishes a report on ‘Air pollution in Northern Ireland’. The lastest report is available using the below link. You can also see all the reports from 2004 to 2016 on the air quality website.

Air quality policy and legislation

Air pollution can have a serious effect on people's health. Exposure to air pollution can have long-term effects on health, it also has negative impacts on our environment.

The UK government's and devolved administrations' primary objective is to ensure that all citizens should have access to outdoor air without significant risk to their health, where this is economically and technically feasible.

EU legislation

The following EU Directives set limits for air pollutants in ambient air:

UK air quality strategy

Local authorities here are responsible for reviewing the state of air quality in their district. To assist them with this process an air quality strategy(AQS) has been devised for the UK. This sets down standards and objectives for the air quality pollutants causing the problems and allows councils to review air quality in their area against these.

NI departments also have a responsibility to ensure limit values, target values and alert thresholds for specified pollutants are not exceeded.

In most cases, the AQS objectives are identical to the EC Directive limit values, the only differences being the more stringent dates by which the former must be achieved.

Northern Ireland legislation

The EU Air Quality Directives are transposed in Northern Ireland by the Air Quality Standards Regulations (Northern Ireland) 2010. These regulations place a duty on NI government departments to monitor levels of air pollutants specified in the Air Quality Directives, and ensure compliance with limit values for these pollutants.

District councils have a duty to review and assess air quality within their districts, under Part III of The Environment Order (NI) 2002.

Where UK AQS objectives are breached, or are likely to be breached, then district councils have to declare an air quality management area, and produce, along with relevant authorities (for example Transport NI in the case of road traffic air pollution) and action plan to address the air quality problems.

The Air Quality Standards Regulations (NI) 2013 prescribe the relevant authorities and set out the air quality objectives to be achieved, and cover aspects of air quality management areas and action plans.

You can find more information on air quality management areas on the AirQualityNI website.

If you would like any further information please contact:

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