Effect of air pollution control on mortality and hospital admissions in Ireland

Res Rep Health Eff Inst. 2013 Jul:(176):3-109.


During the 1980s the Republic of Ireland experienced repeated severe pollution episodes. Domestic coal burning was a major source of this pollution. In 1990 the Irish government introduced a ban on the marketing, sale, and distribution of coal in Dublin. The ban was extended to Cork in 1995 and to 10 other communities in 1998 and 2000. We previously reported decreases in particulate black smoke (BS*) and sulfur dioxide (SO2) concentrations, measured as total gaseous acidity, in Dublin after the 1990 coal ban (Clancy et al. 2002). In the current study we explored and compared the effectiveness of the sequential 1990, 1995, and 1998 bans in reducing community air pollution and in improving public health. We compiled records of daily BS, total gaseous acidity (SO2), and counts of cause-specific deaths from 1981 to 2004 for Dublin County Borough (1990 ban), county Cork (1995 ban), and counties Limerick, Louth, Wexford, and Wicklow (1998 ban). We also compiled daily counts of hospital admissions for cardiovascular, respiratory, and digestive diagnoses for Cork County Borough (1991 to 2004) and counties Limerick, Louth, Wexford, and Wicklow (1993 to 2004). We compared pre-ban and post-ban BS and SO2 concentrations for each city. Using interrupted time-series methods, we estimated the change in cause-specific, directly standardized mortality rates in each city or county after the corresponding local coal ban. We regressed weekly age- and sex-standardized mortality rates against an indicator of the post- versus pre-ban period, adjusting for influenza epidemics, weekly mean temperature, and a season smooth of the standardized mortality rates in Coastal counties presumably not affected by the bans. We compared these results with similar analyses in Midlands counties also presumably unaffected by the bans. We also estimated the change in cause-specific, directly standardized, weekly hospital admissions rates normalized for underreporting in each city or county after the 1995 and 1998 bans, adjusting for influenza epidemics, weekly mean temperature, and local admissions for digestive diagnoses. Mean BS concentrations fell in all affected population centers post-ban compared with the pre-ban period, with decreases ranging from 4 to 35 microg/m3 (corresponding to reductions of 45% to 70%, respectively), but we observed no clear pattern in SO2 measured as total gaseous acidity associated with the bans. In comparisons with the pre-ban periods, no significant reduction was found in total death rates associated with the 1990 (1% reduction), 1995 (4% reduction), or 1998 (0% reduction) bans, nor for cardiovascular mortality (0%, 4%, and 1% reductions for the 1990, 1995, and 1998 bans, respectively). Respiratory mortality was reduced in association with the bans (17%, 9%, and 3%, respectively). We found a 4% decrease in hospital admissions for cardiovascular disease associated with the 1995 ban and a 3% decrease with the 1998 ban. Admissions for respiratory disease were not consistently lower after the bans; admissions for pneumonia, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), and asthma were reduced. However, underreporting of hospital admissions data and lack of control and comparison series tempered our confidence in these results. The successive coal bans resulted in immediate and sustained decreases in particulate concentrations in each city or town; with the largest decreases in winter and during the heating season. The bans were associated with reductions in respiratory mortality but no detectable improvement in cardiovascular mortality. The changes in hospital admissions for respiratory and cardiovascular disease were supportive of these findings but cannot be considered confirming. Detecting changes in public health indicators associated even with clear improvements in air quality, as in this case, remains difficult when there are simultaneous secular improvements in the same health indicators.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Air Pollutants*
  • Air Pollution / analysis
  • Air Pollution / legislation & jurisprudence*
  • Air Pollution / prevention & control
  • Cardiovascular Diseases / epidemiology
  • Coal
  • Environmental Monitoring / methods
  • Gastrointestinal Diseases / epidemiology
  • Health Status
  • Humans
  • Ireland / epidemiology
  • Mortality / trends*
  • Patient Admission / statistics & numerical data*
  • Respiratory Tract Diseases / epidemiology*
  • Respiratory Tract Diseases / mortality
  • Seasons
  • Smoke
  • Socioeconomic Factors
  • Sulfur Dioxide
  • Weather


  • Air Pollutants
  • Coal
  • Smoke
  • Sulfur Dioxide