Ammonia (NH3) emissions have stayed reasonably constant since 1990, noted Dr Eimear Cotter, senior manager of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). She was speaking as the publication of emission figures for Ireland’s key air pollutants were published today by the EPA.

However she highlighted that “ambitious targets under Food Harvest 2020 could put pressure on ammonia emissions into the future”.

The EPA says the primary sources of NH3 are the application of animal manures and nitrogenous fertilisers to soils. Its figures have shown that NH3 emissions from agricultural sources have decreased by 3.5 per cent between 1990 and 2012 reflecting a decrease in animal numbers.

It also found that total NH3 emissions decreased by two per cent between 1990 and 2012, corresponding to a decrease in dairy cows and a reduction in the application of synthetic fertiliser to soils.

According to the EPA, Ireland’s national emission ceiling for NH3 is 116 kilotonnes to be achieved by 2010. Emissions in 2000 were already below the 2010 ceiling. This data for 2012 shows Ireland to be 11.4 kilotonnes below the 2010 limit.

However the EPA underlined that given the strong performance of the agriculture sector in line with the ambitious targets of Food Harvest 2020, limiting NH3 emissions to below the 2010 ceiling in the future could become an issue. Continued research on low emission landspreading techniques and other manure management strategies is required, it said.

This latest information from the EPA shows that in 2012 Ireland continued to breach its nitrogen oxide (NOx) emission ceiling and, in fact, moved further from the ceiling, which was set under the EU’s National Emissions Ceiling Directive.

The EPA says the road transport sector has been one of the main contributing factors behind the high NOx levels, responsible for over 47 per cent of total national emissions in 2012. The industrial and power generation sectors are also key sources of NOx emissions. The figures published today show that NOx emissions increased between 2011 and 2012.