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Ammonia Reduction In Agriculture Needed To Meet Compliance.

Widespread implementation of ammonia reduction technologies in agriculture needed for Ireland’s compliance with EU Air Pollutant Reduction Targets.

  • Ammonia emissions are non-compliant with the 2020 National Emissions Reduction Commitment, driven by emissions from manure and fertiliser use in the agriculture sector.
  • Ireland can achieve compliance with the 2030 emissions reduction commitment for ammonia through full implementation of planned ammonia reduction measures, such as Low Emissions Slurry Spreading and use of inhibited urea fertiliser products.
  • Ireland is compliant for 2020 with the emissions reduction commitments under the NEC Directive for nitrogen oxides, non-methane volatile organic compounds and sulphur dioxide.
  • Further research is needed to identify additional actions that can be taken to reduce emissions of non-methane volatile organic compounds.

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) today published a report on its assessment of emissions of five key air pollutants which impact air quality, health and the environment. The pollutants, which are subject to reduction commitments under the EU National Emission Reduction Commitments (NEC) Directive, are:

  • ammonia,
  • non-methane volatile organic compounds,
  • sulphur dioxide,
  • nitrogen oxides
  • fine particulate matter (PM2.5).
  • Sulphur Dioxide (SO2) is the major precursor to acid deposition (including “acid rain”), which is associated with the acidification of soils and surface waters and the accelerated corrosion of buildings and monuments. Emissions of SO2 are derived from the sulphur in fossil fuels such as coal and oil used in combustion activities.
  • Nitrogen Oxides (NOx) contribute to acidification of soils and surface waters, tropospheric ozone formation and nitrogen saturation in terrestrial ecosystems. Nitrogen dioxide (NO2) is also associated with diseases such as diabetes, hypertension, stroke, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) and asthma. Power generation plants and motor vehicles are the principal sources of nitrogen oxides, through high-temperature combustion.
  • Ammonia (NH3) emissions are associated with acid deposition and the formation of secondary particulate matter. The agriculture sector accounts for virtually all (99%) of ammonia emissions in Ireland.
  • Non-methane volatile organic compounds (NMVOCs) are emitted as gases by a wide array of products including paints, paint strippers, glues, cleaning agents and adhesives. They also arise as a product of incomplete combustion of fuels, from the storage and handling of animal manure and fertilisers in agriculture and from spirit production.
  • Fine particulate matter (such as dust) of diameter less than 2.5 micrometres is termed PM2.5. Sources include vehicle exhaust emissions, soil and road surfaces, construction works and industrial emissions and agriculture. Particulate matter can be formed from reactions between different pollutant gases and is responsible for significant negative impacts on human health.

Emissions of other air pollutants and heavy metals not subject to NEC Directive emission reduction commitments are also assessed in the report.

This report shows that although ammonia emissions decreased slightly in 2020, they remained non-compliant with the National Emissions Reduction Commitment (ERC).
Ammonia emissions have now been non-compliant for eight of the past nine years.

The 2020 data shows that increased use of abatement technologies has led to a reduction in ammonia emissions. Low emissions spreading techniques were used to apply approximately 36% of cattle slurries in 2020, a greater percentage than had been projected, which avoided over 5,600 tonnes of ammonia emissions.

A 62% increase in the uptake of protected urea fertiliser also saved over 500 tonnes of ammonia emissions, though usage remains low compared to other fertiliser types. 
Emissions of nitrogen oxides (NOx) decreased by 6% in 2020, with transport NOx emissions decreasing by almost 16%. This reflected the reduction in transport activity seen as a result of the COVID-19 restrictions as well as improvement in vehicle NOx abatement technologies. 
Despite 7% lower fine particulate matter (PM2.5) emissions from the transport sector, overall PM2.5 emissions increased in 2020 due to higher emissions from home heating.
NOx and PM2.5 emissions have human health implications, particularly in urban environments.
Despite compliance with NEC Directive reduction commitments, particulate matter levels recorded at EPA ambient air quality monitoring stations in 2020 continued to be a concern in villages, towns and cities.  
Emissions of non-methane volatile organic compounds (NMVOCs) decreased by 3% in 2020. This was due to reduced emissions from solvents and the food and beverage industry during 2020.
NMVOCs mostly arise from spirit production in the food and beverage industry, animal manures and fertilisers and solvent use, including paints and adhesives. NMVOC emissions from spirit production alone have increased by 65% over the last decade and effective abatement measures will need to be identified if future emissions reduction targets are to be met. 
Emissions of sulphur dioxide continued on their long downward trend in 2020 and have now decreased by over 94% since 1990. 

Ms Sharon Finegan, Director of the EPA’s Office of Environmental Sustainability said: “While reductions in ammonia emissions are welcome, much more remains to be done to end Ireland’s continuing non-compliance with NEC Directive targets. Full Implementation of ammonia abatement measures outlined in Agriculture Sectoral Plans, such as Low Emission Slurry Spreading and use of inhibited urea fertiliser products, is required to bring Ireland into compliance with the 2030 emission reduction commitment for ammonia.” 
She added: “Nitrogen losses to both the air and water cause significant environmental pressure without providing any soil fertility benefit. The Nitrates action Programme, Ag Climatise and the draft River Basin Management Plan 2022-2027 all reflect the need to reduce nutrient loss to the environment.”

Mr Stephen Treacy, EPA Senior Manager said: “Measures in the National Air Pollution Control Programme (NAPCP), Clean Air Strategy and draft Solid Fuel regulations have the potential to decrease national emissions of NO2 and particulate matter and improve outcomes for local air quality and health. Implementing these measures will see a further shift away from solid fuel combustion for residential heating and the introduction of new standards.Further research and new measures are needed to address emissions of non-methane volatile organic compounds. This particularly applies to sectors where this source of emissions is continuing to grow, such as spirit production within the food & beverage industry.”

For further detail on these figures, see the EPA report Ireland’s Air Pollutant Emissions 1990-2030 on the EPA website.
Further information: Niamh Hatchell, EPA Media Relations Office 053-9170770 (24 hours) or media@epa.ie

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