Environmental guidance for your business in Northern Ireland & Scotland

Preventing air pollution

Air pollution from your business can harm the environment by contributing to climate change and damaging land, water and wildlife. It could also have a detrimental impact on the health of people living in the local area - children and the elderly are particularly sensitive to the effects of some pollutants.

It is not enough simply to comply with air pollution legislation - you must also minimise the environmental impact of your business in many different ways. Taking active steps to reduce air pollution can benefit your business. For example, limiting emissions and improving your processes can save you money and enhance your reputation not only with your staff, but with your customers and the local community.

This guide outlines how to comply with air pollution legislation and the benefits of keeping air pollution to a minimum. It also includes information on checking and controlling air pollution and protecting others from pollution.

Additional resources

       

Video Case Study: How to Reduce Carbon Emissions from Your Business

There are two main types of air pollution:

  • fumes - which can include vapours, gases, smoke and odours
  • dust - dry particles

These can be produced in a number of different ways. Manufacturing processes, particularly those that use chemicals and machinery, can cause air pollution. Less obviously 'dirty' processes, such as cleaning and packaging goods, can also produce harmful emissions.

Businesses particularly at risk of causing air pollution

Most types of business can cause some form of air pollution if they are not run properly. Some businesses are particularly at risk of creating air pollution, including:

  • manufacturers
  • farmers
  • construction, building and demolition trades
  • vehicle repairers
  • welders
  • mines and quarries
  • printers
  • hauliers and other transport businesses
  • waste management businesses
  • dry cleaners
  • laboratories

Sources of air pollution from business premises include:

  • emissions from burning fuels in furnaces and boilers
  • burning material in the open
  • dust and fumes from poor waste storage and ventilation systems
  • ozone (an air pollutant which can be harmful to human health) from office equipment such as copiers and laser printers
  • exhaust fumes and dust from distribution and delivery vehicles

Effects of air pollution on the environment and human health

Air pollution impacts seriously on the environment in a number of ways. Emissions of greenhouse gases contribute to climate change and ozone-depleting substances create larger holes in the ozone layer. This type of pollution also increases the acidity of rain, which causes damage to buildings, land, fresh water and sea water, wildlife and plants.

There are many associated risks to human health from air pollution. Those who are exposed to poor air quality can face an increased risk of developing or exacerbating a range of illnesses including lung and breathing problems, skin conditions, cancer and organ damage.

Further information:

Ensuring good air quality can benefit your business. You can reduce the risk of health problems among your staff and visitors, which may help avoid staff sickness and compensation claims.

Complying with air quality legislation will also help you avoid the risks of penalties and prosecution. Read the page in this guide on what you must do to prevent air pollution.

However, there are a number of other benefits, aside from reducing legal and financial risks. Better practice can also help you save money. Cost savings typically include:

  • lower insurance premiums through carrying out risk assessments
  • less risk of machinery being clogged or damaged by dust
  • reduced risk of compensation claims from employees and members of the public.

Your reputation could benefit too. Lower levels of pollution will improve your standing with employees and customers, and relationships with the local community. As environmental awareness grows, clients and potential clients may be more attracted to your business than to your competitors.

Several pieces of environmental legislation that control air pollution may apply to your business. This will depend on the type of activities your business carries out and where it is located.

  • If you use a boiler or furnace, you should check what legal requirements you need to comply with. See the page in this guideline on Boilers and furnaces: environmental authorisations
  • If you burn waste, you must have the correct permit, licence or registered waste exemption. See our guideline: Waste Incineration 
  • If you use hazardous substances such as solvents or you carry out certain industrial, intensive agricultural or waste activities that are likely to cause air pollution you may require a pollution prevention and control permit. This permit will contain conditions that control your emissions to air. See our guideline: Environmental permits and licences - an overview.
  • If you use ozone-depleting substances or fluorinated greenhouse gases such as solvents, refrigerants and foam blowing agents you must be qualified to use them, handle them appropriately and comply with any phase-out dates that apply. See our guidelines: Ozone depleting substances and F-gases
  • Emissions from your business must not cause a nuisance to your neighbours. Your local council, the Northern Ireland Environment Agency (NIEA) or Scottish Environment Protection Agency (SEPA) can also impose additional requirements that you may need to comply with. See the page in this guideline on Protecting neighbours from air pollution.
  • If you carry out activities covered by the European Union emissions trading system (EU ETS) you must hold a greenhouse gas emissions permit. The main activities include energy activities, combustion installations, iron and steel businesses, mineral oil refineries, the mineral industry, and pulp and paper businesses. See our guideline: EU Emissions Trading System
  • If your electricity supply is metered by half hourly meters you may need to participate in the CRC energy efficiency scheme. See our guideline: CRC Energy Efficiency Scheme
  • If you employ more than 250 people,or you have a turnover greater than 50 million Euros or your balance sheet is greater than 43 million Euros then you may need to participate in the Energy Saving Opportunities Scheme (ESOS)

If you are unsure if legislation applies to your business, you should contact:

  • in Northern Ireland your district council or the NIEA
  • in Scotland your local authority or SEPA.

You must also prevent air quality from damaging the health of staff and visitors.

Dark smoke restrictions

You must not cause or allow emissions of dark smoke from your site. There are some exemptions from this requirement, but only if your installation won't cause emissions that could damage health or cause a nuisance. See the page in this guideline on Dark smoke restrictions.

Further information

Environmental Protection UK: Air pollution sources

Defra: Air quality

Scottish Government: Pollutant information

Find your local council

You must not cause or allow a chimney or bonfire on your site to emit dark smoke. There are some exemptions from this requirement, but only if your installation won't cause emissions that could damage health or cause a nuisance.

What is dark smoke?

The darker the smoke, the more polluting it tends to be. Smoke darker than a specified shade of grey is officially classified as 'dark smoke'.

A Ringelmann chart is used to define dark smoke. The chart has five shades of grey with 0 being clear and 5 being black. Smoke is considered 'dark' if it has a shade of 2 or darker.

The Ringelmann chart: British Standard BS 2742C

What you must do

You must prevent the emission of dark smoke from:

  • chimneys serving furnaces, fixed boilers or industrial plants, whether they are attached to buildings or not
  • any industrial or trade premises.

Industrial or trade premises include:

  • the site where you are working, such as a building or demolition site
  • any site that you own or lease
  • land used for commercial agriculture or horticulture.

Your local council does not need to see the emissions of dark smoke to take action against you. Evidence of burnt materials that could cause dark smoke, such as steel reinforcement from tyres, or plastic residues is sufficient. Be aware that you cannot use a defence of lack of visual evidence, if you burn materials at night for example.

Permits and exemptions for burning waste

If you burn waste in an appliance, such as a furnace or boiler, you will usually require a pollution prevention and control permit, waste management licence or a waste exemption.

You must not burn waste in the open, such as on a bonfire, unless you have a waste management licence or a registered waste exemption that covers this activity.

If you have a permit, licence or waste exemption you must comply with all of its conditions.

See our guideline: Waste incineration.

Further information

Environmental Protection UK: Air pollution sources

Defra: Air quality

Scottish Government: Pollutant information

Find your local council

Energy can be generated on site using gas, oil or by-products and waste as fuel. If you produce energy or steam on your site and you have a generator, furnace or boiler with a rated thermal input above the threshold levels, you will require a permit from your environmental regulator.

What you must do

In Northern Ireland

You need a Part A pollution prevention and control (PPC) permit for appliances with a rated thermal input of 50 megawatts (MW) or more burning fuels (including those that have passed the NIEA's end-of-waste test).

You need a Part C PPC permit for appliances with a rated thermal input of 20 to 50MW burning fuels, or a combination of appliances which when added together, have a net rated thermal input exceeding 20 megawatts but less than a rated thermal input of 50 megawatts. This includes those that have passed the NIEA's end-of-waste test.

Part A is regulated by the NIEA and Part C by your district council.

In Scotland

You need a Part A pollution prevention and control (PPC) permit for:

  • appliances with a rated thermal input of 50 megawatts (MW) or more
  • appliances burning waste oil, recovered oil or fuel manufactured from waste.

You need a Part B PPC permit for:

  • appliances with a rated thermal input of 20 to 50MW
  • appliances burning waste excluded from the Waste Incineration Directive (WID) with a rated thermal input of 0.4 to 3MW.

PPC Permits are regulated by SEPA.

Permits for burning waste

Most waste burning activities are covered by the WID. If you burn solid or liquid waste in your furnace or boiler you will usually require a WID-compliant Part A PPC permit. See our guideline: Waste incineration.

Permit conditions

If you have a permit it will have conditions that control emissions from your boiler or furnace. You must comply with all of the conditions in your permit. Your permit may contain conditions for levels of noise, vibration, odour, dust and smoke emissions.

PPC Permits

Installing furnaces

Your district council must approve your plans and specifications before you can use a new furnace (except a domestic furnace) in a building, fixed boiler or industrial plant, or if you make changes to an existing furnace.

Talk to your local council about grit and dust arrestment if you do not have a PPC permit and your furnace is going to be used to burn:

  • pulverised fuel
  • any other solid matter at a rate of 45.4 kilograms or more an hour
  • liquid or gaseous matter at a rate equivalent to 366.4 kilowatts or more.

If you install a new furnace, it must be able to operate continuously without emitting smoke when burning the type of fuel it has been designed to use. Planning permission or a building warrant from your local council is not sufficient for you to construct a chimney or plant.

Find your local council

Smoke Control Area restrictions

If you are in a Smoke Control Area, you can only use authorised fuels or exempted furnaces or boilers. In such areas, the emission of any smoke at any time from a chimney is an offence, with only a few exceptions. You could be fined £1,000 for each offence.

Northern Ireland: DOE: Smoke control areas

Scotland: Scottish Air Quality: Smoke control areas

Burning of biomass

If you wish to install a combustion appliance that burns biomass (most commonly wood and including wood pellets), such as domestic wood burning stoves or bigger combined heat and power plant, you need to take a number of issues into consideration:

  • Is your business located within an Air Quality Management Area (AQMA)? The local council can advise if the is an AQMA in your area. There are restrictions on operating biomass plants within AQMAs and in such cases you should contact the NIEA or  your local SEPA office.

Contact your environmental regulator

  • Smoke and odours from a wood burner can generate complaints from local residents - therefore, the design should ensure emissions will not affect local properties.
  • Delivery of fuel may lead to increase vehicle movements, which can cause air quality, noise and nuisance problems.
  • Correct storage of wood fuel is important as it can affect the performance of the boiler.
  • The burning waste material may require a permit or an exemption from your environmental regulator.

Environmental Protection UK: Biomass and air quality guidance (PDF, 858K)

Sulphur content of fuel limits

You must not use gas oils with a sulphur content higher than 0.1 per cent by weight.

You must not use heavy fuel oils with a sulphur content higher than 1 per cent by weight. This does not apply if your plant came into operation after 1 July 1987 and you hold a PPC permit that contains conditions limiting sulphur dioxide emissions.

If you operate a pre-1987 combustion plant and you do not require a permit, you can either limit the sulphur content of your fuel to the 1 per cent limit or you must apply for a sulphur content of liquid fuels permit from:

  • In Northern Ireland: the Industrial Pollution and Radiochemical Inspectorate (IPRI), which is part of the NIEA
  • In Scotland: from SEPA.

Chimney and emission requirements

You must meet any chimney and emission requirements that your local council applies to your furnace or boiler. See the page in this guideline: Boilers and furnaces: chimney and emission limits.

Further information

Environmental Protection UK: Air pollution sources

Environmental Protection UK: Biomass and air quality guidance

Defra: Air quality

Scottish Government: Pollutant information

Find your local council

Contact your environmental regulator

A boiler or furnace burning fuel normally releases smoke through a chimney. Smoke darker than a specified shade of grey is officially classified as 'dark smoke'.

You must not cause or allow emissions of dark smoke from your chimney. See the page in this guideline dealing with dark smoke restrictions.

Authorisations for boilers and furnaces

You must make sure that you comply with any emission limits required by permits or authorisations.

See the page in this guideline that covers boilers and furnaces  - environmental  authorisations

What you must do

Chimney height requirements

Your chimney must be high enough to prevent smoke, grit, dust, gases and fume emissions from damaging health or causing a nuisance. Your local council can refuse approval for a chimney that is not a sufficient height.

You must obtain approval from your local council for a chimney by satisfying them that your chimney will be tall enough to prevent its emissions becoming a nuisance.

In Scotland

You must apply for chimney height approval from your local council if:

  • you do not have a pollution prevention and control permit
  • your boiler's fuel consumption exceeds 45.4 kilograms of solid fuel per hour
  • your boiler's fuel consumption exceeds 366.4 kilowatts of liquid or gas fuel per hour.

In Northern Ireland and Scotland,

your application must contain details of:

  • the purpose of the chimney
  • the position and type of local buildings
  • local ground levels
  • any other issues that must be taken into account.

Your local council may apply certain conditions to their approval such as the rate and quality of emissions from your chimney.

A chimney may be exempt if it is used as part of:

  • a temporary replacement, for example if the boiler or furnace is being repaired
  • a temporary source of heat or power for building works
  • an auxiliary plant to bring the main plant up to operating temperatures
  • a mobile source of heat or power for agricultural purposes.

If your use of the chimney changes you must re-apply for approval for the new emissions.

You are committing an offence if you use the chimney without approval from your local council.

Boiler emission requirements

You must fit all boilers with grit and dust arrestment equipment. You can apply to your local council for an exemption, but this will only be granted if the boiler will not create emissions that could damage health or cause a nuisance. For further information you should contact your local council.

Find your local council

Smoke, grit and dust emission limits

Your local council can apply limits on emissions of smoke, grit and dust you produce. If you exceed these limits you may be committing an offence and could be prosecuted. Your local council is likely to set limits for sites with a history of complaints, or sites that use fuel or procedures they were not designed to use.

You should use the best practical means to minimise emissions, for example:

  • fit grit and dust arrestment filters
  • inspect boilers, furnaces and filter equipment regularly for correct operation
  • install filter performance monitors.

See the page in this guideline that covers checking and controlling air pollution.

Good practice

Inspect your emissions regularly so you can detect problems early.

Plan and carry out maintenance to ensure that your furnace and boiler meets air emission standards and operates efficiently.

Use cleaner fuels, such as gas, to limit the environmental impact of your furnace and boiler.

Further information

Environmental Protection UK: Air pollution sources

GOV.UK: Standards for air quality

Scottish Government: Pollutant information

Find your local council

Burning waste is usually an environmentally poor option because of the risk of air pollution and the loss of potential resources. You should use other methods of waste management wherever possible. However, it may be appropriate if you can't find an alternative way to dispose of your waste, or if the waste is an efficient fuel.

In most cases, burning waste is forbidden or requires a pollution prevention and control permit, waste management licence or a registered waste exemption before you carry out the burning.

Waste incineration

What you must do

If you have a permit or licence you must comply with all of its conditions.

If you have a waste exemption you must comply with the relevant conditions to ensure that waste is recovered or disposed of without endangering human health or causing harm to the environment. In particular, you must not:

  • risk harm to water, air, soil, plants or animals
  • cause a noise or odour nuisance
  • adversely affect the countryside or places of special interest.

Burning materials such as plastics, rubber or MDF (medium-density fibreboard) can emit particularly polluting 'dark smoke'. Whether your activities require a permit or not, you must not create dark smoke. See the page in this guideline: Dark smoke restrictions.

If you are in any doubt about what you are allowed to burn, contact:

  • in Northern Ireland: the Northern Ireland Environment Agency (NIEA)
  • in Scotland: the Scottish Environment Protection Agency (SEPA)

Contact your environmental regulator

Any emissions you cause that affect your neighbours' use and enjoyment of their premises could be a nuisance. For example, if your business is in a residential area and your processes emit dust and fumes, your neighbours have the right to complain. Statutory nuisances from air pollution include:

  • dust
  • fumes
  • odour
  • smoke
  • gases.

If you cause but fail to deal with a nuisance problem you could face legal action and/or a fine. Your local council or environmental regulator could restrict or stop your business activities.

The best way to avoid legal action is to not create a nuisance in the first place. You can achieve this by maintaining equipment properly, monitoring your emissions so you can detect potential problems as soon as possible and keeping your neighbours informed of changes. See the page in this guideline on Checking and controlling air pollution.

See also Noise, odour and other nuisances.

Local council controls

Local councils monitor air quality. If air quality fails to meet the required standards, they must declare an Air Quality Management Area (AQMA) and set out a plan for making improvements.

If your business is in an AQMA, you could be affected by:

  • the introduction of road charging
  • parking restraints
  • increased restrictions on waiting and loading times
  • taxes to encourage moving freight by rail rather than road
  • the review of planning applications by a pollution control team.

Northern Ireland: DOE Air quality management areas

Scottish Air Quality: Air quality management areas

Your local council can also declare a Smoke Control Area, which means that you can use only authorised fuels or exempted furnaces or boilers. In such areas, the emission of any smoke at any time from a chimney is an offence, with only a few exceptions. You could be fined up to £1,000 for each offence.

If you are a contractor and work at different locations you should check with the local council in each of these locations about their Smoke Control Areas.

Northern Ireland Air: Smoke control areas

Scotland: Scottish Air Quality: Smoke control areas

Further information

Noise, odour and other nuisances.

Contact your environmental regulator

The best way to reduce air pollution is to avoid producing it in the first place. Start by checking your emissions and reviewing your business processes to see if you can cut down your emissions. Then take steps to control any remaining emissions.

Check your business for air pollution

Buy monitoring instruments that check levels of gas and fumes. You could use an environmental consultant to do this.

If you have a pollution prevention and control permit, waste management licence or a waste exemption, you must comply with all of its conditions.

See our guideline: Environmental permits and licences - an overview.

Control air pollution in your business

  • Ensure staff are informed about the dangers of dust and fumes.
  • Clean machinery and premises regularly and thoroughly.
  • Seal vessels that contain solvents and other hazardous substances.
  • Ensure there are enough open windows and doors on the premises. However, make sure you consider the effects of air pollution on the wider environment.
  • Install a ventilation system.

This page provides links to the full text of key pieces of environmental legislation relating to air pollution. The websites hosting the legislation may list amendments separately.

If you are setting up an environmental management system (EMS) for your business, you can use this list to start compiling your legal register. Your legal adviser or environmental consultant will be able to tell you if other environmental legislation applies to your specific business.

Environmental management systems and environmental reports

Northern Ireland

Clean Air (Emission of Dark Smoke) Regulations (Northern Ireland) SI 1981/340. Makes it an offence to emit dark smoke from industrial or trade premises, with detailed exemptions. Sets conditions for some burning. (Waste management licensing legislation may apply to these activities too). Not available online.

Clean Air (Northern Ireland) Order SI 1981/158 (including amendments). Sets out controls on smoke, dust and fumes, including rules on chimneys, and introduces Smoke Control Areas

Clean Neighbourhoods and Environment Act (Northern Ireland) 2011 Sets out the rules on statutory nuisance and the enforcement powers available to district councils

Sulphur Content of Liquid Fuels Regulations (Northern Ireland) SR 2007/272. Implements measures for reducing the sulphur content of heavy fuel oils (excluding marine fuels).

Sulphur Content of Liquid Fuels (Amendment) Regulations (Northern Ireland) 2014 SR 147 Amends the Sulphur Content of Liquid Fuels Regulations (Northern Ireland) 2007 in order to implement amendments to Directive 1999/32/EC, relating to a reduction in the sulphur content of certain liquid fuels, with regard to marine fuels.

Smoke Control Areas (Authorised Fuels) Regulations (Northern Ireland) SR 2013/205

Contain the current list of fuels authorised for use in smoke control areas, for the purposes of the Clean Air (NI) Order 1981

Smoke Control Areas (Authorised Fuels) (Amendment) Regulations (Northern Ireland) 2015 SR367

Amend the Smoke Control Areas (Authorised Fuels) Regulations (Northern Ireland) 2013, to add two new fuels to the list of fuels declared to be authorised fuels. A further entry has been included as a substitute for Ecoal briquettes (in paragraph 21 of the Schedule), due to a number of changes to the product.

Scotland

Clean Air (Emission of Dark Smoke) (Exemption) (Scotland) Regulations SI 1969/1389. Exempts from the Clean Air Regulations the emission of dark smoke caused by burning certain materials, subject to specified conditions, eg timber from a building demolition. Not available online.

Clean Air Act 1993. Bans the emission of dark smoke from chimneys and furnaces, sets minimum chimney heights and created smoke control areas.

Dark Smoke (Permitted Periods) (Scotland) Regulations SI 1958/1933. Allows dark smoke to be emitted for a specified total duration within an eight-hour period, or longer if it involves soot blowing. Not available online.

Environmental Protection Act 1990.Defines the legal framework for duty of care for waste, contaminated land and statutory nuisance.

Smoke Control Areas (Authorised Fuels) (Scotland) Regulations SSI 2010/271 (as amended).Specifies the fuels authorised for use within Smoke Control Areas under the Clean Air Act 1993.

The Sulphur Content of Liquid Fuels (Scotland) Regulations 2014 No 258

Prohibits the use of heavy fuel oil with a sulphur content greater than 1% or the use of gas oil with a sulphur content greater than 0.1%. They revoke the 2007 Regulations.

Further information

You may also need to know about and comply with legislation on:

PPC Permits

Waste management licences

Noise odour and other nuisances

Find other current and future environmental legislation that may affect your business on the NetRegs website.

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Permits

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SEPA - Application forms