Source Apportionment of Particulate Matter in Urban and Rural Residential Areas of Ireland

The SAPPHIRE project will deliver the most detailed information to date on the chemical composition and sources of airborne particulate matter in rural and urban residential areas of Ireland. This information will provide policy makers with a sound scientific basis for development of strategies to reduce particulate pollution, particularly in relation to the use of solid fuels for home heating.

The research will involve field measurements of a range of air pollutants in specially selected locations in Ireland. Efforts will be focussed on determining the chemical composition of airborne particulate matter using both on-line (aerosol mass spectrometry) and off-line analytical methods (ion chromatography, GC-MS and ICP-OES). Source apportionment modelling will also be performed to attribute the particles to specific sources.

The objectives of the project are to determine the chemical composition of fine particulate matter (PM2.5) present in locations representative of urban and rural residential areas in Ireland. Also, to conduct a source apportionment study of PM2.5 in the urban and rural areas and quantify the contributions of major sources including road traffic and domestic solid fuel burning. The measurement and analytical methods employed in the project will enable separation of the individual contributions from combustion of coal, peat and wood/biomass in residential areas. Finally, conclusions will be drawn about the chemical speciation and sources of PM2.5 in rural and urban residential areas in Ireland and provide policy makers with relevant scientific information to support development of effective strategies for reducing particulate pollution.

Scientific Background

The strong association between exposure to PM and adverse effects on human health has led to numerous reports and actions by international bodies and the instigation of limit values (LV) for particulate matter. For example, the latest relevant European Commission Directive 2008/50/EC sets two important PM2.5 objectives: (i) LV of 25 µg m-3 to be re-assessed by 2013; (ii) the setting of national levels by 2020 for the exposure of the population to fine particles. Furthermore, according to the European Environment Agency, up to 45% of Europe’s urban population are exposed to PM levels exceeding European standards . In this context and since the WHO 2006 report on “Health risks of particulate matter from long-range transboundary air pollution” it has become apparent that PM monitoring both in terms of size/mass as well as new metrics (such as particle number and composition) is required.

Air pollution reduction strategies have been put into effect throughout Europe because PM can be transported many hundreds of kilometres from source. The international dimension of these achievements has often been underpinned by scientific contributions made to bodies such as the Convention on Long-range Trans-boundary Air Pollution. Thus air pollution abatement has become a key priority of EC member states in order to improve the quality of life. Reviews by WHO (in 2004) within the CAFE-programme (Clean Air for Europe) of the European Commission attribute the strongest health effects to PM followed by O3, NO2 and other gaseous pollutants. However underlying these health impact assessments is the assumption of a uniform toxicity for all PM, which may not prove to be true given the variety of potential sources. The most important sources contributing to PM mass concentrations in urban environments are direct local contributions by road traffic, but domestic solid fuel burning also represents a large proportion of the emissions. In rural towns and villages, little information has been gathered to assess the relative contributions and to thereby possibly modify policy especially with regard to Domestic Solid Fuels (DSF) use. The CAFE Directive requires collection/analysis of PM2.5 to be carried outat one rural background site per member state in order to support source apportionment studies. The results can then be used to judge enhanced levels in more polluted areas (such as urban background, industry related locations, traffic related locations); and furthermore to assess the possible contribution from long-range transport of air pollutants.

Project Team

Co-ordinator – Dr John Wenger

Co-Principal Investigator – Professor John Sodeau

Post-doctoral Research Assistant – Dr Ian O’Connor

Research Assistant – Dr. Eoin Mc Gillicuddy

Funding Details

Funded by - the Irish Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) - Science, Technology, Research & Innovation for the Environment (STRIVE) Programme.

Research theme - Environment and Human Health: a theme set up to improve knowledge to assist in the development and implementation of effective policy actions to reduce environmental impacts on human health.

Funding period – 2014-2016.

Funding cost - €200000

Project News


Dr John Wenger presents work from SAPPHIRE project

Dr John Wenger gave a presentation at a meeting organised by the Asthma Society of Ireland in the Mansion House, Dublin, Wednesday 3rd December. The Asthma Society are calling for a nationwide ban on smoky coal and Dr Wenger highlighted the success of the ban currently in place in cities and large towns across Ireland. He also presented some preliminary results from a monitoring campaign currently taking place in Killarney as part of the EPA-funded SAPPHIRE project, which show elevated levels of fine particulate pollution at night due to solid fuel burning. A copy of the presentation is available for download from the CRAC Lab website.

There are also some relevant links below, including an article written by Paul Cullen, the Health correspondent for the Irish Times.

Download Presentation (2,328kB)

Irish Times article

Other links:


Ian O’Connor, Eoin McGillicuddy, Jovanna Arndt, Stig Hellebust, Paul Buckley, Robert Healy, John Sodeau, John Wenger. Contribution of Solid Fuel Burning to PM2.5 in Residential Areas of Ireland. European Aerosol Conference, Milan, September 2015. Download Talk

John Wenger. Particulate pollution in Ireland from solid fuel burning. Chemistry Department Seminar Series 2014/15, University College Cork, March 2015. Watch on Youtube

Ian O'Connor, John Wenger. Particulate pollution in Ireland from solid fuel burning. Asthma Society Meeting, Mansion House, Dublin, December 2014. Download Talk


An overview of the CRAC led and EPA funded project, SAPPHIRE.

A number of stakeholders speak about the air quality project, SAPPHIRE.

John Sodeau speaks to John Keogh of the Solid Fuel Trade Group, August 2015.

In The Media

23/02/2015 - South-East Radio

John Wenger podcast

04/02/2015 - Irish Examiner article

Kerry Council resists ban on smokey coal over fears of hardship for consumers.

04/12/2014 - Irish Times article

Air pollution in Killarney 10 times higher at night.

Centre for Research into Atmospheric Chemistry

Lab B1, Kane Building, University College Cork, College Rd, Cork, Ireland